Table of Contents
Four Worlds

Part IV - Case Studies

In this chapter, we present two case stories, those of Alkali Lake, British Colombia and Hollow Water, Manitoba. We have chosen these stories precisely because they are both well-known and because we could find no better examples of community healing struggles in process. This is not to say that there are no others. Indeed, we know of many. Nevertheless, our selection also serves as a recognition of these two important pioneer communities. In each of these cases, our intention is to go beyond the story of recovery in order to draw out lessons that could be applied to many situations.

A. The Alkali Lake Community Story


In this case study, you will read what has become, in "Indian country," the nearly legendary story of Alkali Lake, a Shuswap Indian Reserve of some four hundred people near Williams Lake in north-central British Columbia. You will read of how the Alkali Lake people brought about a dramatic transformation from the depths of severe alcoholism and social devastation, to become an inspiration, a role model, a helper and a teacher to hundreds of other communities.

At the outset we must alert you to a number of inter-related factors that make the telling of this story problemmatic.

1. The story of what happened (and is still happening) within Alkali Lake is not our story to tell. The right to tell that story belongs solely to the Alkali Lake people. Indeed, there is no one story. There are, rather, hundreds of stories that are blended together to make up what we will generally refer to as the "community's story." We have reluctantly agreed to share what we know of that story because we believe it has much to teach all of us about the nature and critical processes of community healing and development.

2. The community's story was first told to the world by Alkali people in a film entitled "The Honour of All: The Story of Alkali Lake," released in 1986. While the film was in every way faithful to the story as the people had experienced it up to that time (1985/86), the real Alkali Lake quickly transformed into something of a myth in "Indian country," metaphorically representing the possibility that healing could come to all communities suffering from similar conditions. Indeed, it is fair to say that the makers of the film intended and anticipated such an outcome as an antidote to the despair that was prevalent in so many Canadian and American tribal communities at that time.

3. The story of Alkali Lake is not a fairy tale in which everybody lived happily ever after. There was indeed a dramatic turnabout in alcohol consumption. But ten years after the movie was made, Alkali Lake people are still struggling with underlying issues. While the use of alcohol was overcome in one generation of people, many of their children are now engaged in struggles of their own. The healing process is far from over.

4. Alkali Lake did not happen in a vacuum. We now know that there were dozens of other tribal communities which were undergoing similar transformations at around the same time. Without in any way diminishing the achievement of Alkali Lake people, it is critical to understand the ecology of the Aboriginal healing movement that gave rise to Alkali Lake, as well as to many other dramatic personal and community transformations.

All story telling must be grounded in some intention. Stories are not merely a recitation of past events. In the recent marriage of participatory action research (such as in the work of Fals-Borda (1991) with community development practice, facilitating the telling of the "community's story" has emerged as a methodology for community analysis, visioning, planning, and evaluation (see Bopp and Bopp 1998, and Feather 1996). The community story process is essentially a method for systematizing what a community knows about itself concerning the past, the present and the desired or anticipated future. It is also a powerful builder of consensus and solidarity.

Our purpose in writing about Alkali Lake goes beyond recounting what happened to one community, and even beyond shedding light on the Aboriginal wellness movement (which we certainly will try to do). Our purpose is focused on the problem of what is entailed in helping traumatized communities to transform their health conditions from within.

The Community's Story

As far back as Alkali Lake elders can remember, there was no use of alcohol on the reserve before 1940. Just before World War II, a general store and trading post was set up at Alkali Lake by a European immigrant to the area. The people brought their furs to the store and received cash or merchandise, such as food staples, in exchange.

The elders recount that the trader gradually introduced alcohol to the people as a means of "softening them up" during the process of negotiating the value of their furs. Once alcohol entered the community system, there was a gradual deterioration of the health and well-being of the people. At first only a few families were affected, but other kinds of pressures were also mounting. A whole generation of Alkali Lake young people were sent off to residential schools. While many people credit the schools with providing educational opportunities, two very negative outcomes contributed to the continued slide into community alcoholism.

The first was that a generation of children grew up apart from their parents and family life. They were forced to speak English (or French in some cases) and were punished for speaking their Native language. They were told over and over again that their own cultural foundation (beliefs, values, customs and knowledge) were not only primitive and inferior to European ways, but also (especially in regards to indigenous spirituality) sinful. The flagrant psychological and spiritual colonization of Alkali Lake's children engendered a kind of racial/cultural self-hatred. The mind-set this process engendered led many Alkali people to believe at a deep, subtle and mostly unconscious level that unless they somehow became culturally "white," they were "no good," "savages," "primitive," "flawed," "less than," "unable," "inferior," useless" people who could never really stand as worthy and equal human beings in comparison to their Euro-Canadian neighbours. This insidious way of thinking was not unique to Alkali Lake. Most indigenous communities in Canada have been heavily impacted by similar processes of internalized oppression.

The second devastating outcome of the residential schools was the introduction of wide spread physical and sexual abuse. No one knows for sure what percentage of Alkali children were abused, but is known that the numbers were very high. Once abuse was introduced into the lives of Alkali children, it would be generations before it could be completely uprooted. In the mid 1980s, as the issue of sexual abuse was just being surfaced in Alkali Lake, upwards of ninety percent of the entire population of Alkali Lake

young people had been sexually abused.

When the residential school generation returned to the community to start their own families, many did so having been raised through a large part of their childhood by large, impersonal and sometimes dysfunctional institutions. Because they had not been parented themselves, and because they had not internalized the traditional family values and processes so vital to healthy family and community life, Alkali Lake people were much more vulnerable to the culture of alcohol. Add to this vulnerability the pattern of physical and sexual abuse and it becomes clear that during the darkest period (1965 to 1985) growing up and living in Alkali Lake was something of a walking nightmare for most people.

A once hard-working people now lived in a village strewn with years of accumulated garbage and broken-down cars. Their once well-tended houses now had holes in the walls, paint peeling off the outside, windows broken and covered with cardboard, furniture broken and dirty, and a general spirit of sadness that filled up all the spaces.

Children often came to school (when they came at all) hungry, bruised and numbed by neglect, psychological humiliation, or the prolonged terror of physical and sexual abuse. It became commonplace for them to see their parents and other adults staggering from house to house in search of a bottle or the next party. Children learned to cower and hide when their parents got into screaming matches, which often ended in physical or sexual abuse, or worse. And with the alcoholism came poverty, hunger, sickness, suicides, and layer after layer of loss as loved ones died in accidents, from violence or from largely unnecessary disease brought about by constant abuse and neglect of the body.

As one prominent community member put, "We had become what others called us: the Indians of Alcohol Lake." Most of the people were so immersed in this reality that they were unable to "see" any other possibility for themselves. As another young man put it, "I thought that was how Indians lived."

Despite their total immersion into the culture of the alcoholism (i.e. the personal and social dynamics of addiction such as denial, self-destructive behaviour, manipulation and mistrust of others, etc.), Alkali Lake people talked a great deal about sobering up. The church set up a pledge system. Chief and Council (all practicing alcoholics) endlessly discussed "the problem," but everyone felt powerless to really do anything about it.

A look at the economic reality of Alkali Lake during those years is also instructive. Virtually everyone (with the exception of a few Band employees) received social assistance cheques every month. A very high proportion of the government money coming into the community was quickly converted into alcohol. The liquor stores and taxi companies in Williams Lake (thirty-five miles away) made a booming business selling alcohol to the Reserve. Three regular shipments a week came in on the "Dog Creek Stage," and special orders by taxi could be arranged at anytime.

Bootlegging (the practice of selling alcohol illegally) was widespread. Any child with money could buy a bottle. Bootlegging was a very profitable business for some (including some of the community's political leaders). So, despite the talk of "sobering up" that was common, some people were making a lot of money from the misery of Alkali Lake people.

In June of 1972, a seven year old girl told her mother, "I don't want to live with you anymore." The girl was Ivy Chelsea, daughter of Phyllis and Andy Chelsea. Both Andy and Phyllis had been drinking since childhood. The family had recently moved back to the Reserve from a nearby town. Andy and Phyllis often "partied" for the entire weekend. On this occasion they had left little Ivy in the care of Phyllis's mother. When Phyllis returned (hung over) to retrieve Ivy, the little girl refused to go home with her until both her parents quit drinking. Phyllis promised she would, and she did. She tells of going home and pouring all the booze in the house down the kitchen sink. Four days later, Andy also quit drinking. At that time, Andy and Phyllis were the only two non-drinking people in the entire community.

They tell of the visits of Brother Ed Lynch, an Oblate Brother and A.A. counsellor from nearby Williams Lake. Brother Ed had been trying to convince Alkali Lake people to come to A.A. meetings for several years, but (as Andy put it) "everyone pretty much ignored him." An entire year passed, and as Brother Ed and Andy and Phyllis Chelsea sat around the birthday cake Brother Ed had brought them to celebrate one year of sobriety, they wondered out loud how long it was going to be before anyone else would join them. They talked about how hard it was to even remain in the community, especially on long weekends. They all agreed that it was "pretty damn lonely," and that all they could do was take it "one day at a time."

During the next seven years, a small handful of people stopped drinking and began working with Andy and Phyllis to try to restore at least some level of health to the people of Alkali Lake. One sure sign that, despite their addictions. Alkali Lake people deeply desired to find a way out of the pit they found themselves in, was the fact that Andy Chelsea was elected Chief of the reserve in 1972, shortly after he quit drinking.

Andy was very clear about his intentions of using his political power to help the people of Alkali Lake to return to health. While it is true to say that on one level Andy Chelsea's interventions were welcome, it is also true that the battle had barely began. The tiny core group of people that had to struggle every single day just to maintain their own sobriety now met denial, resistance, rebellion, resentment, scorn, threats and outright violence in their efforts to persuade their fellow community members to stop drinking and to go to an alcohol treatment program.

The following is a short list of some of the actions taken by the new Chief and his core group.

• The Dog Creek Stage which brought booze to the Reserve three times a week was refused access. No liquor sales were to be permitted on the Reserve.

• The RCMP were called in and marked bills were used to prove that bootlegged liquor sales had occurred. In one instance, the entire company of Alkali Lake bootleggers were arrested and put out of business. Two of these were the mothers of Andy and Phyllis Chelsea.

• A voucher system was set up with stores in Williams Lake. People who were the worst drinkers no longer received their welfare money in the form of cash. Instead, they were given vouchers which they could exchange for food or other necessities.

• People who committed alcohol-related crimes ranging from drunk driving to assault and battery where given the choice: either go to treatment or go to jail.

• The Catholic priest was approached and asked to cooperate with Chief and Council in encouraging the people to stop drinking. Unfortunately, the priest was an alcoholic and was actively promoting opposition to Andy Chelsea’s efforts. At one point he made it clear to Andy that "we are going to get you deposed as Chief." The priest was ordered to leave the Reserve. As it turned out, the priest was having an affair with the nurse. The two of them left together.

These sets of actions were met with extreme anger, hostility and resentment by many of the people. As Freddy Johnson (another very prominent community member) recalls, "I told him that now that you’ve become the teetotaling Chief, you think you can go around bossing everybody else’s business. Get the hell out of here!"

Still, the numbers of people who had stopped drinking all together continued to

increase. It was very slow at first. By the end of 1973 there were less then a dozen sober people. Then, in 1974, some thirty-five people went to treatment. A turning point had been reached. By the end of 1975, forty percent of the community was clean and sober. The process was by no means easy, but by 1979, ninety-eight percent of Alkali Lake people completely abstained from the use of alcohol.

In order to strengthen and consolidate the healing process, it was necessary to link healing to tangible progress in the social and economic conditions of the people. Some of the strategies used to accomplish this by the Chief, Council, Band programs and a growing core group of volunteers included the following.

• A deliberate effort was made to revive traditional Native forms of spirituality and healing. Because much of the community’s own cultural resources had been lost during the dark years, traditional teachers from other communities were asked to come to Alkali Lake in order to help the people rediscover their indigenous identity and spirituality. Through this process, the use of the sacred pipe and sweat lodge was re-introduced, and these cultural resources become very powerful instruments which helped many Alkali Lake people find their way back to sobriety and a path of wellness.

• Whenever anyone went out of the community for treatment, their children were taken care of, their house was cleaned up and repaired, and when they got back, there was a job waiting for them.

• A variety of economic enterprises were initiated to provide employment for the growing numbers of non-drinking people. Some of these included a piggery, a market gardening business, a laundromat, a logging operation, a restaurant, and a mechanical repair shop. By 1985, Alkali Lake had achieved full employment (i.e. everyone who wanted a job had a job).

• While there was work for everyone, the full human potential of Alkali Lake people had not nearly been exhausted. There was a need to move beyond the struggle with alcohol to life after the bottle. This need required that further healing and learning opportunities be provided to the people. To respond to this need, a wide variety of training opportunities were made available to the people covering many topics connected to personal and community wellness and the continued pursuit of social and economic improvements.

Postscript: 1998

Early in 1985, as the research and preparation for the making of the film "The Honour of All" was underway, it was already evident that the transformation which had occurred relative to the use of alcohol (dramatic and significant as it was) was only the beginning of the community’s journey toward wellness.

Following are some of the major issues and challenges that arose as the process


1. Fame and Notoriety In 1985 the film, "The Honour of All: The Story of Alkali Lake," was released. The film had an electrifying effect on indigenous communities across the entire continent of North America. That year, Alkali Lake hosted the first of several international conferences focused on the healing of indigenous communities. Several hundred people were expected to attend the first conference. Twelve hundred came. In 1986, a second conference attracted some two thousand five hundred people from across North America and around the world.

One of the reasons Alkali Lake agreed to make the film telling their story (despite misgivings that their story would be appropriated and altered by outsiders for purposes unrelated to Alkali Lake) was because community leaders such as Andy and Phyllis Chelsea and Freddy Johnson were increasingly out of the community doing workshops and presentations about what had happened at Alkali Lake. It was hoped that the film would make it possible for many people to hear the story without putting such a high demand on the primary leadership of the community.

In retrospect, the film had the opposite effect. It soon became clear that exporting training was rapidly developing into a booming business. By far the most sought after presenters were Phyllis, Andy and Freddy. Parts of the community increasingly resented several things about this new development.

1. Most people felt that Alkali Lake’s turnaround was a hard-won victory after a long battle. It was not merely a few "celebrities" who had fought that battle. It had taken enormous courage and strength on the part of many people. Almost everyone had suffered losses along the way. Now it appeared that the credit for what had happened at Alkali Lake was being given (by an adoring public) to a few people. This was not a concern arising from simple jealousy (although that too was no doubt a factor). Andy and Phyllis themselves know only too well that while they may have been catalysts, there were many heroes and heroines in the true story of Alkali Lake, and they often said so in their presentations across North America. The deeper issue was the community’s need to believe in and take ownership for what they had achieved.

2. Another concern was the fact that despite the impressions of "happy ever after" that the film (unintentionally) conveyed, there were many ongoing struggles the community still faced. People who were "celebrities" to the outside world held responsible positions of leadership within the Alkali Lake community. They were needed at home in the continued struggle to build a healthy community.

3. A third issue had to do with money. Although the most in-demand Alkali Lake representatives held responsible jobs at home, they were also being paid handsome honorariums for public appearances from Alaska to Mexico. Some community members felt this was very unfair, both because the "celebrities" were benefiting personally from something that really belonged to the whole community, and also because they were being paid at home to do a job they were seen to be neglecting.

To their credit, Andy and Phyllis Chelsea tried to address these issues in various ways. A new Band enterprise called "New Directions Training" was initiated, and teams of community people were trained as trainers to work in tribal communities across Canada and the United States. Andy Chelsea also stepped down as Chief in order to bring others into the leadership circle.

Now, more than ten years after the film was released, the issues of who gets credit, who is asked to speak on behalf of the community, and who earns money still remain a source of irritation between some Alkali Lake people.

2. Sexual Abuse Almost as soon as the "fog" of alcoholism was cleared away from the minds and hearts of Alkali Lake people, the issue of sexual abuse dawned on the horizon. As difficult and stubborn as the disease of alcoholism had been to face up to and resolve, no one ever dreamed that an even more difficult challenge would arise so quickly.

The fact that most Alkali Lake people had gone to treatment and stopped drinking did not mean that their healing process was complete. Years of accumulated loss and hurt do not simply disappear as a result of one therapeutic experience. What remains is a life-long journey into wellness that is exceedingly demanding because it requires that the traveller learn beliefs and values and new habits of thinking, feeling, acting and being in relationships with others. As explained above, Alkali Lake people became avid learners, involving themselves in many different kinds of training to strengthen their capacity to make this journey.

Another strategy that became very much a part of life in the "new" Alkali Lake was healing circles, A.A. meetings and other kinds of support groups. These meetings contributed significantly to rebuilding bonds of love, trust and acceptance among the people. Gradually, as people began to feel that it was safe to do so, they began to talk about some of the deeper hurts they were carrying that had been covered up by alcoholism. It soon became clear to community members such as the new Chief (Charlene Belleu) that some way had to be found to address the issue of sexual abuse. There had been a significant number of disclosures (all of which were women disclosing how they had been victimized), and there was mounting anger and denial of other community members (mostly men) refusing to really look at the issue.

With the help of trusted and experienced specialists (such as Maggie Hodgson from the Nechi Training Institute near Edmonton, Alberta and Dr. Cruz Acevedo from The Four Worlds Development Project out of Lethbridge, Alberta), a series of community workshops were held that eventually uncovered a startling revelation. Upwards of eighty percent of the entire community (women and men) of Alkali Lake had been sexually abused and many had become victimizers of others. Nearly every household was affected. Among the younger generation, community estimates say that as many as ninety percent of the community's children and youth had been victims of sexual abuse.

In response to this challenge, new approaches to addressing sexual abuse had to be developed. The dominant (Euro-Canadian) justice system required all disclosures be reported to the police (and in the case of child victims to Child Protection Services). That system also required that "perpetrators" be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. As a Manitoba First Nations leader dealing with the same issue quipped, "What are we supposed to do? Build a fence around the whole community and turn it into a concentration camp?"

What Alkali people wanted was a process that promoted healing (defined as the restoration of balance). The Euro-Canadian legal system (and the intention behind the law) is driven by a desire to punish. Early on in the process, Alkali Lake people realized that abusers were very often people who had been victimized themselves. As they saw it, the real need was to interrupt the cycle of abuse, and to restore healthy relationships between their people. This culturally rooted philosophical difference eventually led to the development of a very different kind of approach that combines the involvement of the justice system (police, courts and the threat of imprisonment) with an intensive healing process which may (depending on the nature of the abuse) include the involvement of a forensic psychologist, a therapeutic counsellor or psychologist specializing in sexual abuse, a community-based counsellor, participation in a survivors or abusers support group, and a process of reconciliation involving the abuser, the victim(s), the families of the victims and the family of the abuser.

3. The Next Generation At the time of Alkali Lake's "turnaround" (1979-82), the current generation of youth were either small children or net yet born. It was their parents’ generation who courageously clawed their way out of the pit of community alcoholism. It was also their parents’ generation who struggled through intensive healing and learning processes and, to this day, it is their parents’ generation who continue to maintain their sobriety. However, as early as 1984, it was already becoming evident that the next generation of Alkali Lake people had their own battles to fight. As one Alkali Lake youth, currently (1996) in alcohol treatment commented, "That was then. This is now. They had their fun. Now it’s our turn." Estimates vary, but at this writing, somewhere near twenty-five percent of the population of Alkali Lake uses alcohol, and almost all of these are young people.

Whose Story?

Anyone who tells a story does so from a point of view, and almost always with intentionality beyond the mere recitation of "the facts." In our telling of the story, we have relied on the following sources.

1. The in-depth personal interviews collected from some eighty community members in 1984/85 during the making of the film "The Honor of All: The Story of Alkali Lake."

2. Our own (considerable) personal interactions with the community in providing training and technical assistance between 1983 and the present.

3. The observation of our professional colleagues and associates who have worked consistently with Alkali Lake through the various phases of their healing and development process.

4. The observations and comments Alkali Lake people made to us, or to others. (We note with deep respect that Alkali Lake people have been and continue to be profoundly honest about what is, and what is not, happening in the continued process toward community wellness in Alkali Lake.)

What we have shared thus far may be compared to the experience of staring into a deep pool of water. There are several ways to look at the pool. One way provides us with a reflection of the sky, and perhaps of ourselves. The other, which requires looking deeply beneath the surface of the pool, reveals a whole dynamic world of aquatic life, filled with drama, beauty and mystery.

Thus far we have told a story that , while true, has skimmed over the surface of what really happened in Alkali Lake. What is reflected back to us fulfills our desire to see the possibility of human transformation; and the triumph of the human spirit against seemingly impossible odds.

What is not told in our recounting of the Alkali Lake story has to do with the underlying dynamics of human transformation for health. Thus far we have only provided a two-dimensional sketch of the visible. We have not yet uncovered the "software" that make those surface dynamics possible.

Key Processes and Mechanisms for Change in Alkali Lake

In this section, we will briefly outline our understanding of the key processes and mechanisms that made the turn-around in Alkali Lake possible.

1. Hitting Bottom - At the point in the story where Ivy Chelsea refuses to go home with her mother, thereby triggering a chain of decisions and breakthroughs, the community had hit an all-time low. Every man, woman and child on the Reserve was being seriously impacted by alcohol. The pain was palpable. There were only two ways out--death or recovery. While it took a long time and a lot of help for people to begin choosing recovery, the conversation of the community was very focused on finding a way out. We note that later, when Andy was elected Chief, it was an almost one hundred percent practicing alcoholic electorate that voted him in, and he ran (and won) three times on a sobriety ticket. The community was reaching out for help with one hand, even as they denied it and pushed it away with the other.

2. Leadership and Core Group Development - Leadership played a critical role on the Alkali Lake process. Phyllis, Andy, and a few others first led the way by sobering up themselves and maintaining their sobriety as an example and as an attractive force for others to follow.

A second feature of their leadership was to create a "safe place" (i.e. a holding environment) within the larger community. This amounted to a small but gradually expanding core group of people who mutually supported each other in their healing journey. This group gradually developed new and more healthy ways of relating to each other and new approaches to pursuing the goals of successful life. Hence, they became a model community within the large community. They created a social space that others could move into when they wanted to make the shift.

A third feature of the leadership factor was the use of formal leadership mechanisms. Andy ran for and was elected as Chief, and he worked very hard to use the powers of Chief and Council to advance the community healing process. In this regard:

a. Leadership clearly kept the issue of healing very much in the forefront of community issues, refusing to be diverted from the primary objective of a sober community.

b. Chief and Council used their powers to challenge individuals to seek help. This was done by giving people who committed alcohol-related offences (drunk driving, battering, etc.) the choice of being charged or going to treatment.

c. All accounts we received reported that Andy and his councillors were rigorously fair and honest in the application of pressure. At one point, the mothers of both Phyllis and Andy Chelsea were charged with bootlegging.

d. As well, leadership was able to create an economic incentive system involving vouchers in lieu of cash for drinkers and jobs for those returning to treatment.

All of these steps took personal and political courage and a clear focus on the reasons why leadership had decided to run for public office.

A fourth and vital factor was the informal leadership roles played by many Alkali Lake people who used their own sobriety as a lever to encourage and support others in their families or in the community to sober up. This type of broad-based and continuous intervention and support process could never be maintained by a few people at the top of the formal leadership pyramid. It took individual initiative as well as formal leadership to shift a good dream into a sustainable reality.

3. Incentives and Opportunities Chain - In order for people to be able to imagine themselves living a healthier, alcohol-free life there had to be tangible opportunities and incentives that could be translated into the building material of a new way of life. Opportunities were needed for meaningful employment, for recreation and a social life that was alcohol-free and, most immediately, there had to be accessible and fairly continuous opportunities for healing, personal growth and learning.

What, in fact, was developed in Alkali Lake was a series of interconnected interventions and opportunities as well as built-in rewards and consequences that constituted a healing pathway.

a. The chain of events along this pathway began with a very loving and caring confrontation in which the person was encouraged to go to treatment and offered support, in the form of child care, transportation or whatever else was needed.

b. A part of the intervention included a promise to fix up the person's house while they were away.

c. People went to Round Lake (near Vernon, B.C.) or other centres for residential treatment.

d. Upon return to the community, there was a strong A.A. program (culturally adapted and changed to fit the community’s reality). These meetings became a primary means of support and continued healing for many people.

e. When people were ready, a job was waiting for them. This opportunity immediately boosted the person's sense of self-worth and provided tangible proof that the healing journey was leading to a new and better life. Alkali Lake leadership worked very hard to create economic opportunities and by 1985, nearly everyone who wanted a job could get one.

f. Another key part of the chain was learning and personal growth opportunities. The Band provided numerous opportunities for people to be exposed to excellent training so that people could learn how to rebuild their interior lives as things improved in the community.

Thus, someone wishing to sober up entered the chain through loving encouragement and challenge with the promise of a better life, and found themselves moving easily from one phase to the next, rewarded and supported as they found their way into a new pattern of life.

4. Cultural and Spiritual Foundations - A key element in the Alkali Lake transformation was a conscious placing of spirituality in the center of the process. This involved a rediscovery of Native spiritual traditions and tools such as the sweat lodge, the sacred pipe and other ceremonies. It also involved a conscious openness to and acceptance of religious diversity. Every aspect of family and community life began to again acquire the ceremonial markers that help to guide people on their journey through life reminding them of their sacred responsibilities and boundaries. Moral values and spiritual teachings again become central in the education of children in community governance and in family life. We believe this "software dimension" of recovery was a very powerful element in the success Alkali Lake people were able to achieve in their struggles to transform their community.

Concluding Remarks

Alkali Lake has "broken the mold." They have stepped outside the patterns of addiction (and later abuse), and in doing so have inspired a generation of Aboriginal people to do the same.

Their generosity in sharing their story with the world and their continued

commitment to support other communities in the healing journey are well known to many. What is not so well known is the nitty gritty details about how Alkali Lake was able to make the changes they did.

In this brief case study, we have attempted to move beyond the story in order to draw out generic lessons that other communities may be able to apply to their healing journeys. More than a decade has passed since the film "The Honour of All" was released and still, their story is fresh and relevant and we believe that there is much still to be learned from their example.

B. The Story of Hollow Water, Manitoba

In the spring of 1984, the neighbouring communities of Manigotan, Aghaming, Seymourville and Hollow Water, Manitoba began a journey together from which there will be no turning back. For a generation before that time, upwards of eighty-five percent of the people in these communities had been buried in alcoholism, sexual abuse, family violence and a wide variety of dysfunctional thinking and behaviour. In 1984, a shift began to take place that was to mark the beginnings of a long-term process of recovery. Although all four communities have been involved in this process for almost fifteen years, the primary leadership and focus of work has been rooted in what has became known as the Community Holistic Circle Healing (CHCH) process in Hollow Water.


The area of Manitoba in which Hollow Water is located is one hundred fifty miles northeast of Winnipeg and has a combined population of approximately one thousand people. The people live in four neighbouring communities (Manigotan, Aghaming and Seymourville which are Metis settlements and in Hollow Water which is a status Indian Reserve). Sometimes these communities take the first letter of each community and call themselves M.A.S.H.

This is a good name for them for several reasons.

The Resource Team first came together in 1984. It is now made up of political leaders, service providers from all the agencies working in the area, and a strong base of community volunteers. The functions of the Resource Team have developed over the years, but in essence they are:
        1.) a think tank that concentrates its attention on further developing strategies for the healing and development of the communities;

        2.) the front-line leadership group that implements community healing and development strategies through the cooperation of the member agencies and key players;

        3.) a resource coordinating group that strives to make the best possible use of all human and financial resources in prevention programming such that maximum benefit can be given to the communities;

        4.) a case conferencing team that coordinates interventions and services in an integrated and holistic manner, such that community responses to crises and emergencies address both current conditions and root cases; and

        5.) a support group that keep the M.A.S.H. human service personnel healthy, honest and sustainable in what they have come to realize is a very long and difficult process.
The Resource Team is represented by the following organizations and agencies:

In essence, the Resource Group has two vital functions. First, it is the core group of those people within the population who are on a healing journey themselves and are determined to help the rest of the people to undertake their own journeys, so that the communities will be safe and healthy for their children and grandchildren. Second, the Resource Group constitutes the integrated program effort across all disciplines and sectors (such as education, politics, health, religion and economy) that is leading a sustained long-term community health development process.

The Resource Team has its origins in the winter of 1983/84 when group of three Hollow Water area people began to meet in order to try to find a way to turn the tide on community dysfunction and disease. This tiny group of people was eventually to grow to a powerful core group of some thirty people representing key agencies and political entities, but not before a great deal of learning, soul searching and healing took place.

It became clear early on that pathways to healing the community began with a journey inward, through which the members of the circle had to deal with their own healing issues. One of the early members of the circle was Berma Bushie. She describes the search for answers the members of the core group went through.

At first we were saying alcoholism was the problem; suicide was the problem; child neglect was the problem; kids dropping out of school was the problem. The more we learned about ourselves, the more we learned about our community. Those were awesome times that sent us deeper. Then we started touching on sexual abuse... Breaking the silence for the first time was very shocking, and I think we all knew it was a crisis." (Berma Bushie, in The Four Circles of Hollow Water, 1997:162-163) The first disclosure of sexual abuse came in 1986. Before that time, no one talked about it. When Hollow Water people looked at their community before 1986, alcohol and drug abuse loomed large as a problem, as did unemployment and a need to re-root the education of their children in the cultural ways of their people.

Berma Bushie recalls a break-through moment at a workshop in which an evaluation survey was taken of the participants’ experiences with sexual abuse.

I always remember one workshop we had where there were sixty people. All of the front-line workers were there from the four communities. There were church workers there, single moms and the general membership was there. It was there that we couldn’t ignore the problem any more because we were faced with actual numbers. For the first time we were able to talk about the sexual victimization of our past as children and as young people in this community. It was not one incident. There were multiple incidents, multiple abusers. Many of us started off as victims as children. By the time the survey came, we had moved on to become victimizers, either of ourselves, our families or others. The stats were very shocking. (Ibid:163) At that point there was no turning back. It became very clear that there had been a great deal of sexual abuse going on for many ears, but that talking about it was taboo. Indeed, most of the members of the Resource Group had somehow been affected by it. They gradually discovered that as the blanket of alcohol abuse was removed, many of the people were holding on to acute anger, hurt and dysfunctional behaviour patterns that were related to sexual abuse or to some other violation that had been done to them in their past. It because increasingly clear that if the community was to ever succeed in the political and economic realms, they had a lot of personal healing work to do.

A Search for Solutions

Hollow Water people (and all the other involved in M.A.S.H.) were aware of the story of Alkali Lake, the Aboriginal community in British Columbia that had experienced a transformation from being a community in which virtually all of its members abused alcohol and drugs to a community in which ninety-five percent of the people abstain from any use. The example of Alkali Lake was clearly fixed in their minds as they searched the North American scene for solutions. What they learned from Alkali Lake and others was that if a change was to occur in their communities, it would not come from outside. No consultants or outside trainers could come in and "fix" the people. They had to do it themselves.

They did learn a great deal from others that strengthened their capacities as a core group and increased their understanding of what it is that has to occur in their communities:
1.) From Alkali Lake they learned that the healing has to come from within; that outsiders can help, but that they would have to take the journey themselves.
2.) Also from Alkali Lake, as well as from Four Worlds and their own experiences, they learned that personal growth is a learning process, and that each person in the community needs to go through that process for themselves. They came to realize that the Resource Group could not do it for the community, but rather it was their task to create the opportunities for the community members to learn it for themselves.
3.) From Jack Mennez and from Dr. Cruz Acevedo, they learned that as well as a personal growth dimension, there is a community development dimension to the healing process. With Cruz Acevedo’s help, they were able to begin the development of a community intervention strategy for dealing with sexual abuse disclosures that protects the victims and that moves beyond punishing the victimizers to holding the victimizers accountable to the community and involving the family and community members in a process of healing and reconciliation.
4.) From eight years of trying to deal with single issues (such as poverty, alcohol or sexual abuse), they began to realize that all the serious problems the communities face (whether in the health or social welfare areas or in the political, economic, or educational spheres) are inter-related. The structure of government bureaucracy and funding programs tended to split the community’s attention and so for a number of years they tried to deal with problems as if they were unrelated issues just because government departments saw them that way. Hollow Water people tell us that they now look beyond healing from the problems to the goal of developing a healthy productive community. This goal, they say, requires that healing and development take place at the levels of

They now realize that such goals require an integrated and holistic approach that insists on multi-sectoral collaboration between the outside agencies whose task it is to aid and assist them in the healing and development process. In practice this has meant that their own planning increasingly cuts across program lines and integrates approaches and strategies that will require support from departments as diverse as the Solicitor General’s Office, Health Promotion Branch, community economic development services and the Education Ministry. The S.A.F.E. Program: The Personal Growth Dimension

In April of 1988, the entire Resource Team (including non-Native helping professionals), as well as some community members--twenty-seven people all told) travelled to Alkali Lake to take part in a program of personal growth training called "New Directions." They returned from Alkali Lake on fire with enthusiasm for what they had experienced there, which was the opening up of their hearts to each others as they unloaded their hurts, shared support, forgiveness and love, and learned how to take personal responsibility for their own continuing journey.

Many of the Resource Group members are employed as some sort of human service workers, whether that be as a social worker, alcohol counsellor, community health representative (CHR), sexual abuse worker or school aide. Most of them had been trying to work with the same clients for years without understanding that dysfunctional client behaviour was rooted in the levels of client personal growth and healing. They now knew that they had to find some way of putting as many of the community members as possible through New Directions training or something very much like it. Until that wide-spread learning took place among the people, they were not going to see the changes they were looking for in the larger social patterns related to ending addictions, abuse and dysfunction in the community.

Building the Program

The first thought was to send everyone they could to Alkali Lake for training. While in principle travelling one thousand people to Alkali Lake was possible, it was soon realized that the costs of such a venture place this option out of reach. After much consultation among themselves and with potential funders, they arrived at a plan that became known as the Self-Awareness for Everyone or S.A.F.E. Program.

The Plan

        1.) Alkali Lake New Directions trainers would come to Manitoba as "master trainers" and put   on a series of training for M.A.S.H. people and others, as space permitted.

        2.) Four local people would work closely with the master trainers as trainees or "trainers-in-training."

        3.) Many others (graduates of previous training sessions) would serve as helpers to the new trainers, thus involving them in an on-going prevention network.

        4.) By the end of the funding cycle, M.A.S.H. would be capable of delivering New Directions like training to their own people, or to anyone else in Manitoba who wanted the training. As well, they would be well on their way to their goal of putting the majority of the people through a personal self-awareness training process.

Indications that the S.A.F.E. Training was Raising Levels of Self-Awareness

It is important to realize that all the while S.A.F.E. trainings were being offered (on an average of one or two times per month), life was going one more or less as usual in the communities. The Resource Group, many of whom work on the front lines with the individuals and families in the M.A.S.H. area who repeatedly end up as the subjects of case conferencing discussions gradually began to notice some very positive changes in the family systems and within the community in general.

        1.) There was a very perceptible opening up that took place. People were more willing to talk, to share feelings, to unload hurts, and to speak the truth about inner issues. This was a definite change for the better. Human service workers had been trying for years to create this climate as a pre-requisite for positive personal and family change.

        2.) People talked a lot about the training. Those who were afraid to go attacked it. Those who had gone praised and defended it. Since the focus of the training was on the individual participant’s own growth (and not on the faults of anyone outside the training), it was clear that the training sessions were serving as a challenge and stimulus for growth among all the people.

        3.) In some pockets of the community, resistance to change and dysfunctional patterns increase, confirming the principle that if something is working in the healing process, things will often get worse before they get better.

        4.) The various case workers would see a marked improvement in communication within families, especially when more than one family member had attended the training.

        5.) Many young people took the training. Because youth are the most "at risk" and "hard to reach" group from an agency perspective, case workers had to acknowledge that the trainings were having a positive effect in that people they had never before been able to involve were now committed to their own healing processes.

        6.) It was observed that S.A.F.E. graduates sobered up more easily and stayed sober longer than graduates of the thirty-day residential treatment programs. M.A.S.H. people believe that the reason this occurred was because the S.A.F.E. program automatically involved graduates in the process of putting on subsequent trainings, thus giving them a source of longer-term support and a sense of purpose. The fact that S.A.F.E. occurred right in the community is also, they believe, a key feature of its success.

        7.) Sexual abuse victims were much more able to talk about their experiences and to deal with their feelings after having taken the training.

        8.) The positive reputation of the program spread all over Manitoba and many communities created programs of their own that either directly copied their approach or else were inspired by their example. As an indirect result of the program, many people in communities outside the M.A.S.H. area have now received some kind of self-awareness training.
As one of the Resource Team members state, "we want to stress that while we were learning, the whole field of community health programming was also learning. To a large extent, we followed the best advice we could find, and in so doing, we now believe we have moved beyond that advice."

What Was Learned

What follows is a summary of the important lessons that emerged from the S.A.F.E. Program.
1.) Follow-up - The following elements were woven into the program in order to ensure adequate follow up:

2.) Linkages - The M.A.S.H. Team expected that once people experienced the positive results of personal growth, they would automatically start to realign their relationships with loved ones, family and community. What they learned is that the real culture of day-to-day life (which is not always the same as the ideal culture of the traditional past) flows along like a powerful river moving people in the same direction. Individuals moving in that river are pushed along by its currents. It is not easy to move against the flow. Personal healing is a very critical dimension of the whole process of transforming the conditions that have prevented people from realizing their true potential as human beings. But personal healing needs to be linked to other dimensions of life if maximum gains are to be made in the overall process. Connecting personal self-awareness training with community economic development initiatives, continuing education efforts, organizational development (such as band council or school boards or band enterprises), or family development would, they realized, begin to significantly change the way people carried on their daily business in the four community area (M.A.S.H.). There was clearly a need to establish an effective mechanism for community conflict resolution and participatory decision making. They could see two critical dimensions that needed to be attended to in such a venture. The first related to the visible structure itself. Will there be town-hall meetings? Small group sessions? Mediation? Binding arbitration? How will the weaker voices receive a fair hearing? Such questions as these are structural questions.

Another set of questions are relational questions. How can you get participants to let go of dysfunctional patterns they have lived out for years--patterns such as manipulation, power tripping, intimidation, lying, smoke screening, backbiting, mistrusting, etc., etc.? It is precisely these relational issues that are addressed through the S.A.F.E. training process. What they gradually realized was that linking S.A.F.E. training to specific community healing and development initiatives would mutually reinforce the community initiatives and the personal growth of participants in an integrated process. It became very clear that, in addition to the healing experience, community members also required a focus beyond themselves and a shared context in which to apply their new-found thinking and behaviour patterns that would lead to the improvement of community life.

The Community Holistic Circle Healing Model (CHCH)

One of the by-products of the opening up of trust and communication produced by the personal growth training was the surfacing of sexual abuse disclosures. At first there were only a few disclosures, but it was the children of the M.A.S.H. communities that really opened the door to a new level of the healing process by coming forward with disclosures of abuse they were experiencing.

It was really hard in the beginning for the children. They would not back off from what they had disclosed. Those littler spirits were ready to convince juries and judges and crown attorneys and defence lawyers that what they were saying was the truth. Through the children, gradually the adults began to get a handle on their fear and their rage. (Berma Bushie in The Four Circles of Hollow Water, 1997:151) The M.A.S.H. Team soon realized that there was a fundamental conflict between what the justice system does with offenders and what the community needed to do, We don’t believe in incarceration. The reason we don’t believe in incarceration is because there’s no healing in that place. People cannot even talk about why they’re there. I know that because we also do work with the federal penitentiary. We go in there and have circles with the inmates and they tell us this. They talk about their attitudes. They talk about offenders like they are the worst parasites on this earth. We know that when our people go to jail, there’s no way they can even talk about what they’ve done. That’s the reason why we don’t put them in jail.

These people need a healing community, a safe place where they can begin to talk about the crimes that they’ve committed. It’s only when people are open and can support these people that offenders interact and begin to change their lives and come back into balance. We see them as being out of balance. So we tell the courts we want these people here. They’ve committed the crime in this community. It affected the people in this community. It’s their responsibility to start paying restitution for the pain they’ve caused. They’re no good to us sitting in jail or wherever they are taken. It’s easy for them to do the jail. (Berma Bushie in The Four Circles of Hollow Water, 1997:151)

What was needed was a new negotiated relationship with all the agencies who have a stake in dealing with sexual abuse cases, which are Other primary stakeholders in the process needing a great deal of love, caring and skilled attention include The new negotiated relationship would have to spell out a strict set of procedures about what to do at the time of disclosure and how a disclosure would be dealt with by the courts to allow for the healing process to take place. With the help of community sexual abuse specialist Dr. Cruz Acevedo of Four Worlds, a basic system and agreements were worked out that have since been further developed and refined.

The Community Holistic Circle Healing (CHCH) model basically works as follows:

        1.) An intervention team consisting of representatives of the justice system (usually the police), child protection services, community mental health and a community representative (often an elder) conducts an initial investigation to find out what really happened. The victim’s story is gently and lovingly recorded. The victim’s safety and, as well, the presence of reliable and trusted people to support the victim through the crisis is ensured.

        2.) Once it has been determined (beyond reasonable doubt) that abuse has taken place, the abuser is confronted and charged. At this stage, the combined power of the law and the community are used to force the abuser to break through his or her own denial to admit to the abuse, and to agree to participate in a healing process. The abuser’s choices are a) to plead guilty and then to be sentenced to probation requiring full cooperation with the healing process, or b) to be abandoned to the courts, with jail as the probable outcome.

        3.) If the abuser agrees to the healing road, he or she then begins a three to five year journey, which ends in restitution and reconciliation between the abuser and the victim, the victim’s family and the whole community.
When an abuser commits him or herself to the healing process, the CHCH team asks the court for a minimum of four months to assess the authenticity of the commitment. When abusers agree to take the healing option, they usually do so out of fear of going to jail. It is therefore important to determine whether or not they are actually ready to participate fully in the healing process.

Four Circles

During the four month period, abusers are asked to undergo a process of looking deeply into themselves and really breaking through the denial to admit to themselves and others what they have done and how their actions have hurt others. This process involves four circles.

The first series of circles are held in which the person is asked to share what they have done. Often they can only admit bits and pieces, and they try to avoid talking about the details. Gradually the abuser is able to admit everything, and is helped to feel the love and support of the circle. It is made clear that the goal of the healing process is to help the abuser to become a healthy and productive community member. During this time the abuser also must work with a sexual abuse counsellor once a week. This process also can involve psychologists or other helpers. They assess the abuser’s willingness to fully engage in the healing process.

The second circle requires the abuser to bring his or her nuclear family together, to tell them what he or she has done, and to deal with the family’s response. The third circle repeats the second circle process with the family of origin (i.e. parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.). The fourth circle is the sentencing circle. In this circle, abusers must tell the whole community (represented by whoever attends the circle) what they have done and what steps they have already taken on their healing journey. CHCH staff say that if a person goes through all of these steps, they are then convinced of his or her commitment to the healing process.

In all, the CHCH process for dealing with abusers has thirteen steps as follows:

            1.) Disclosure

            2.) Establish safety for the victims

            3.) Confront the victimizer

            4.) Support the spouse or parent of the victimizer

            5.) Support the families that are affected

            6.) A meeting between the assessment team and the RCMP

            7.) Circles with victimizers

            8.) Circles with the victim and the victimizer

            9.) Prepare the victim’s family for the sentencing circle

          10.) Prepare the victimizer’s family for the sentencing circle

          11.) A special gathering for the sentencing circle

          12.) A sentencing review (after three years)

          13.) A cleansing ceremony.

We note that this model as presented seems to focus on the abuser. It is important to point out that victims receive a great deal of care, love and skilled therapeutic attention in dealing with the trauma of their abuse. However, we believe that one of the unique features of the Hollow Water CHCH model is the way it brings the Canadian legal system into the circle of the community in order to creatively use that system to help heal the community.

Another feature of the CHCH model is a strong emphasis on the ownership of the abuse and the accountability required of abusers. Prison does not achieve this result, but restoring loving, caring relationships does. This is a significant outcome in terms of the effectiveness of Aboriginal healing models and approaches. Speaking about this feature of the CHCH model, Berma Bushie explains:

I can avoid things with a total stranger. I can say it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was as much a victim, but to face my sister, and say, well, I didn’t really do that--you can’t. The relationship is the key. There’s a drive to want to preserve that relationship, and to preserve it, you have to be honest. (Berma Bushie in The Four Circles of Hollow Water, 1997:172) Cruz Acevedo recalls the early days of the M.A.S.H. Resource Team and, in particular, their efforts to convince chief and council of the importance of healing. Everyone was in denial, despite the strong evidence I presented of the need for healing coming directly from the community members. Only one Councillor would even look at me, and that was Marcel Hardisty. He became a member of the core group. (Cruz Acevedo in conversation with the authors) Key Lessons from the Hollow Water Story

Today Hollow Water enjoys a fairly high level of sobriety (around eighty percent) and they are actively dealing with the sexual abuse issue. Yet, the early beginnings of a healing movement in Aboriginal communities as devastated as Hollow Water once was is always a slow and difficult process. It took almost four years of extremely hard work by the initial core group to build up enough support to assemble an effective Resource Team and to bring in Alkali Lake training (the S.A.F.E. Program).

Some of the other lessons we draw from this story that may be applicable elsewhere are as follows:

        1.) The initial core group began with only three dedicated people who were determined to move the   community toward well-being. These three, and the others who later joined them, could have just given up when things got tough. They did not give up. Though their numbers were small at the start, they eventually had a very profound influence on the health of the whole community.

        2.) The core team was very open to learning from others and actively sought out resources to build their own capacity.

        3.) The S.A.F.E. Program concept was to put as many people as possible through a personal growth and healing experience. Twenty-eight sessions of approximately twenty-five people each were held, which means that, allowing for duplication, well over sixty percent of the entire population went through the program. This initiative changed the conversation of the community toward healing, opened up lines of trust and communication, provided basic skills for dealing with the healing process to follow, and in general laid the foundation for a shift in community reality toward well-being.

        4.) It was learned that unless the training was followed up and linked to economic and other opportunities, its effect died away after a while.

        5.) As the healing process took off, things got worse before they got better, since people resisted letting go of old dysfunctional patterns.

        6.) When the healing process was really moving, it was attractive to even the most hard-to-reach and at-risk people, confirming the "build it and they will come" philosophy. Many communities have given up when they failed to involve people, so nothing was ever built. The Hollow Water experience argues for starting small, thinking big, not giving up, and having complete confidence that as the process becomes visible and attractive, more and more people will want to be a part of it.

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