June 18th, 2020

Movember takes Indigenous Programming to the Tundra

One of the coldest cities in Canada will soon house the first subarctic Indigenous Mental Health Addictions Centre
Where The Money Goes

When people think of the Churchill, Manitoba, rolling tundra, polar bears and beluga whales may come to mind. Known for its rugged northern Hudson Bay shoreline, Churchill may be one of the coldest cities in Canada, but beyond that it is rich with history and culture. Unbeknownst to many Canadians, Churchill - located in the furthest northern region of Manitoba – has become more than just a northern city, it has become a meeting point for many unique Canadian communities. Currently home to Inuit, First Nations, Metis, Dene and settler populations, the city is truly a ‘coming together of the nations’, making it an obvious choice for the first subarctic Indigenous Mental Health Additions Centre, funded by Movember and continuing the organization’s goals of broadening awareness and support for mental health within Canada’s Indigenous communities. 
It is well documented that the Indigenous population in Canada suffer from poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous populations. Fifty per cent of Churchill’s population are Indigenous, while the local hospital (the only one in the region) serves not just the city but also outer communities consisting primarily of indigenous populations. The resources of the healthcare system are stretched in the North. The northern Indigenous communities that surround Churchill suffer from suicide rates nearly four times the national average, with few mental health supports available for the local communities. Coupled with high rates of poverty and limited employment opportunities, the need for resources, particularly those tackling a growing mental health crisis in the region, is immense.

“Churchill has long required a wellness approach to treatment of mental health and addictions, and the Movember model of programming was easy to envision and build from,” says Mike Spence, Mayor of Churchill. “This needed to happen, it was just waiting for the right opportunity.”

For many of the local community and surrounding populations, the current mental health support options are limited locally, with many seeking programming outside the community and far from their own personal support networks. Oftentimes, men would arrive in these locations – like Winnipeg or Ottawa- as strangers with limited local connections and a lack of emotional support.

The Churchill Wellness Centre, which will be conveniently located in the centre of the city and close to the already established Churchill Health Centre, will provide the local communities with important mental health supports needed without having to leave the North; also providing programs led for and by Indigenous people.

The new Centre will include a number of different programming streams utilizing Movember’s ‘wellness approach’ to treatment, aimed at helping the local community to develop and build stronger social connections and supporting positive mental health awareness. Social connectivity has long since shown to play a pivotal role in positive mental health outcomes and continues to be the basis of many Movember programs, Indigenous-focused and beyond. The Churchill Wellness Centre will be no exception - each program operating out of the Centre will be conducted with a specific Indigenous lens, aiming at helping local men reclaim and celebrate their identity and culture.  The Land-based Program for example, will take learnings from its sister program active in Arviat, Nunavut, encouraging the preservation of cultural traditions and passes on the teachings of these important activities to younger members of the community. The Men’s Group Program, which currently has affiliated programs based out of Winnipeg, will focus on the benefits of male-focused group activities such as traditional arts or beadwork as a means to developing stronger social connections.

The programs will be connected and facilitated through the Subarctic Friendship Circle, a local group that is comprised of representatives from each nation in the area, ensuring programs are inclusive and representative of the many Indigenous nations that call Churchill home.

“These are exciting times,” says Churchill Mayor, Mike Spence. “It is a long overdue opportunity to finally provide mental health and additional support to Indigenous people where they live and in a respectful manner, acknowledging the cultures and identity they come from and the need to stay close to their natural support networks.”

Movember, the Churchill Health Centre and the Subarctic Friendship Circle hope to work together to have The Churchill Wellness Centre fully operational by fall 2020.