The Bear HIlls Wellness Centre project is using images of bears in their branding and promotional materials. (Metro Creative Connection)

The Bear HIlls Wellness Centre project is using images of bears in their branding and promotional materials. (Metro Creative Connection)

Bashaw advocates confident wellness centre can proceed

A long in-development project at the Bashaw Retreat Centre is continuing to make slow forward progress.

Since having its development permit denied by Bashaw town council in July 2021, the team working to make the Bear Hills Wellness Centre a reality has been hard at work conducting public engagement with the community of Bashaw.

The initial development permit for the centre was denied by council for a couple of reasons.

First, council cited the denial was due to a lack of public engagement for the proposed facility.

Secondly, there were concerns about having a “rehabilitation” or “detox” facility in the community, of which this facility is neither, according to James Carpenter, the landlord of the proposed facility.

Instead, the Bear Hills Wellness Centre would be a place for Indigenous families struggling with mental health or addiction concerns to reconnect and “learn about their history and spiritual ways.”

“It’s not a detox. It’s not a rehab,” said Russel Burns, an advocate for the project and Treaty 6 First Nations member living in Ponoka.

“Those are very western concepts.”

The centre will use First Nations teachings, with the support of family, to help those in their care.

“We want willing people,” said Burns.

“We want to take able, willing people, and make them better.”

Those unwilling to follow the rules of the facility would be asked to leave, Burns said.

The development permit was re-submitted for council’s approval on Jan. 10, 2022, and has yet to be seen.

If approved, the centre would be funded through a combination of provincial and federal funding.

The plan would be to have those stuggling with mental health or addiction issues and their extended family attend the centre for anywhere from a few weeks, or longer, to work with elders and reconnect and rebuild their family bonds.

At full capacity, the facility would be able to accommodate up to five families at a time.

With the discussion on the national stage of reconciliation, Burns and Carpenter agreed that this is an opportunity that the community of Bashaw can’t ignore.

“The people of Bashaw should get excited, because we are coming to Bashaw for reconciliation,” said Burns.

“When we succeed, it will be national and international attention. It’s a reconciliation project led by First Nations.”

The resubmitted development permit will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.

“Personally, I believe this thing could be the best thing ever happening to Bashaw,” said Carpenter.

Editors note: This story has been edited to add emphasis to the family aspect of the proposed facility and to note that Carpenter is the proposed facility’s landlord, not a developer of the project.