Honoring Nations: Jennifer Harris and Julia Davis-Wheeler: The Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Representatives Jennifer Harris and Julia Davis-Wheeler of the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations youth treatment center discuss the Lodge's genesis and how it works to strengthen the families of the seven Native nations it serves.

Resource Type

Harris, Jennifer and Julia Davis-Wheeler. "The Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 11, 2004. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"Next up we have Jennifer Harris, who helped participate during the Family Strengthening Symposium. She's from the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations and is a registered nurse.

Jennifer Harris:

"I'm so short. Good morning. As that wonderful introduction that Amy gave me, my name is Jennifer Harris. I'm a registered nurse at the Healing Lodge, which is located in Spokane, Washington. We are seven consortium tribes. We are not located on a reservation; we are located in the city limits of Spokane, but on federal property. I kind of broke my talk into two sections because I wanted to touch a little bit and explain about the Healing Lodge, but I also wanted to talk about the Strengthening American Indian Families [symposium] that some of us were here for a few years ago. So I'll start with the Healing Lodge, which is a 26-bed inpatient chemical dependency treatment facility. And I'm fortunate to have one of our past board presidents -- I don't want to pick on her -- Julia Davis, here in the audience. And the presentation before was so excellent. Julia was one of the founding members of the Healing Lodge. So maybe when I'm done, she might want to come up and say a few words about how many, many years ago these tribal leaders came together with this idea and have actually seen it through to a beautiful, working program. So maybe she would be gracious enough to do that for us later. At the Healing Lodge, we have our own school, which does have a Native American Studies program. We have cultural resource people who are there available to the children. I guess I should have said that it's inpatient treatment for 13 to 17 year olds. We will take a 12 year [old] or an 18 year old; 12 if it's a dire situation and 18 if they're still enrolled in school. Their days are planned from the moment they wake up [until] the time they go to bed with education and process groups and a medical staff. They have mental health counselors, recreation specialists, the medical department. We're just one small part of this wonderful program that tries to help these youth recover from substance abuse and give them skills to go back into their communities. And when I was here -- to kind of switch gears -- when I was here for the Strengthening Families Symposium, it was something that I heard over and over again and something that I hear when people ask me where I work is, 'How do you not despair? How do you go to work and hear these stories every day, see the tears in these young ladies' eyes and young men, and know that you're sending them back to these communities and again you're powerless?' You have them for such a short period of time, which is usually 60 to 90 days, and we try to help them heal, teach them skills and hope for the best when they go back to the communities. And at this symposium, the pieces of the puzzle just went together for me. When the Healing Lodge was given honors in 2002, I was not part -- I'm still not part of the administration -- but it was the administration that was involved in the nomination process. And we have the big plaque on the wall, but not all of us know how that came to be. And being here this weekend, like I said, really put these pieces together for me. And it's the youth programs, the family violence programs, the economic development that is helping these children that I see every day. What I do on the front lines is just a small, small piece and I see this economic development and these fabulous programs as what's going to break the cycle of poverty. It's no secret that the poverty leads to addiction, abuse, violence, crime and helping these children at this stage in their life to be sober and clean and healthy is one small piece, but it is the salmon hatcheries and the revitalization of culture that is going to stop the addiction before they ever get to me. You will put me out of a job and I will gladly go because that, like I said, my light bulb went on when I was involved in the breakout sessions and hearing the speakers, that the Honoring Nations programs are what is breaking the cycle of poverty, which is bringing the self-determination, the self-governance, the revitalization of culture and what is going to eventually bring the Native American people out of poverty, out of despair and break the cycle of addiction that I see every day and help these children hold their heads high, be proud of who they are and continue to be members of a society that has in the past not been honored. So if anybody would like to hear, the story is fascinating and the web site is www.healinglodge.org and it's a beautiful facility. We do have -- and Julia will touch on this most likely -- we are run by a board and to be on the board you have to be a tribal councilperson. So our leadership is all Native, which I know is important, that we're learning about today with the self-governance and sovereignty, and we focus on Native American hiring. It's very hard, I know some of you must know that finding qualified Native people who are willing to come and work in the programs is sometimes difficult but we try to make sure that our administrator, our treatment director, the people who are making the decisions, know the Native culture and are making those decisions coming from that place. So that's kind of a nutshell of the Healing Lodge and what I've learned today. And I just want to thank everyone for all of their awesome input and what they're doing in their communities. I think it's easy to lose track of why we get up and go to work every day and the things that we do and I know you see the faces of your own children, but I see the faces of the children that I work with and some of them come from the tribes that you're representing. And knowing that, I can see like the floodgates closing and it coming to a trickle and through the generations the healing and the addiction decreasing. That's really the most important thing that I learned from being here. So I'll turn it over to Julia."

Julia Davis-Wheeler:

"There are seven tribes that belong to the consortium and that is the Umatilla Tribe in Oregon, the Kalispel Tribe in Washington, the Colville Tribe in Washington, the Kootenai, Coeur d'Alene and Nez Pierce tribe in Idaho. That's seven tribes, right? Did I say them all? Spokane. And I see our Kootenai tribal chairman just walking in the door, Gary Aitken. He's on the board and all of the tribes passed a resolution after a working group got together in 1986 and they were all tribal leaders and they wanted to do something for the kids. And that's when the omnibus drug bill was going through Congress and the focus was treatment centers for youth and at that time, in the Portland area, we didn't have any youth treatment centers. And so Mel Tonasket, Bruce Wynn, Ernie Stensgar, myself, Amy -- your mother Amy -- a bunch of others of us got a working group together and this goes back to improving tribal government and what we can do for the youth. And so what we did was we formed a consortium of tribes and we invited any tribe that was interested to come in to work with us. And we especially wanted the bigger tribes, the Yakama, the Shoshone-Bannock, and of course the Colville. The Colville, which is one of the larger tribes in Washington, decided to come in with us, but the Yakama and the Shoshone-Bannocks, because they had their own treatment centers going, decided to not come in with us. So what we did is we formed a band, if you will, of tribal leaders to get this youth treatment center and to be designated as the residential youth treatment for the Portland area. Now I need to tell you that it was not easy. It was very hard because we had the competition of the coastal tribes, if you will. And no offense against any of the coastal tribes that may be here, but they have Seattle, Portland and that corridor where they wanted to have the youth treatment center over that way instead of inland. We wanted it east of the Cascade Mountains so we could serve all of those youth and so we did have a little bit of a tug of war there and we won them over and they decided to support us to go ahead and do this treatment center. I just needed to let you know that it was a lot of work; we had a lot of meetings, continuous meetings. We met with Indian Health Service and we were finally designated as the youth treatment center group. And then we had to go through that whole rigmarole of finding a building, finding a place, finding the land, getting appropriations. I can't tell you how many times we went back to Washington, D.C. to lobby and it was like a miracle from God that we got special appropriations back in 1989. Oh, we started this in 1986, in 1986 when we formed this tribal leaders working group to do this. We knew that we wanted to do it and it was in 1989, 1990 with the help of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, some of the staff people knew what we were doing [and they felt strongly] with it and so they helped us get special appropriations, which was...that's unheard of now. Anyway, we got the appropriations to build a building. And the reason I'm saying this is we are very proud of that building. It's a brand-new facility and after we got appropriated the money then we had to find the land because the omnibus drug bill said that you had to be near a hospital, you had to be near a metropolitan area, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We wanted to put it down in Pendleton, Oregon with the Umatilla Tribe and we were looking at buildings down there. We wanted to have it on a reservation and Indian Health Service kept telling us, 'No, you have to be near a metropolitan area.' And it was like we were hitting our heads up against a wall. We tried to have it in Coeur d'Alene. The State of Idaho does not have a good reimbursement rate for treatment beds, Medicare; it didn't work out there. We tried to do it in Washington. We were looking over on one of the reservations and there are no buildings. You all know that. There's nothing on the Indian reservations that could house a youth treatment center. So what we did was we said, 'Okay, we'll build one.' We knew we wanted to build one. So we went back, we talked to the Department of Health and Human Services and they agreed to purchase land for us. So we ended up buying four acres of land, six acres of land, within the city limits of Spokane. Now, I know a lot of our tribes in the Northwest cannot understand why we are off the reservation but we had to do that. So the residential treatment center is in Spokane, Washington, and if any of you go there I really want you to go out and look at the treatment center, it's beautiful. It's one of the best facilities in the west and it's brand new and it's out in some trees. We have a sweat lodge for the young men, we have a sweat lodge for the young women, we focus on culture, on helping those young people deal with the substance abuse and the alcohol abuse that they're going through. We have elders come in and meet with them and talk with them about, some of those kids have lost touch with their culture, they've lost touch with their spirituality. Some of them have, they're just like little babes. So we're really working with them to come back. But so that's how we ended up with the federal land, and I'm leaving a lot of other things out. We had to fight with the City of Spokane to even build that residential treatment center because the neighboring people around, they didn't want us there. They did not want us there. So we had to battle with the city, the counties, everybody, to even get that facility there. And so that's why it's so good to see that the Healing Lodge has been recognized for improving tribal governments because even though we couldn't actually do it hands-on ourselves, as tribal leaders what we could do is help all the young people that we could -- not just one tribe, but all of us tribes and help them so they don't have to go through what we see every day. And a lot of us are recovering people ourselves. I'm not ashamed to say I'm a recovering alcoholic; I've been sober now for geez, since 1988. No not '98, since 1980. So that's 20 some years. And I know Antone [Minthorn]is the chair of our Umatilla and I know he has a long time [in recovery] -- I hope you don't mind me saying that -- but there's many of us that really believe strongly in this, the Healing Lodge. And for any of you that do get a chance to come up that way, we have visitors that come from Canada. You know Charlene Belleau and Fred Johnson, those people that did the Alkali Lake video, they're interested in coming over to do some...they've gone from sobriety now to real inter-healing. They've gone from one step to another step and so we have a lot of visitors from Canada. They come and tour our facility. We've had visitors from Navajo; we've had visitors from Oklahoma, California. They all come to see our treatment center and it makes me feel really good. And I know that Gary is a member of the board and Gary, when you go back and talk to the other board members, tell them that we need to keep this going and keep it strong and invite everybody to come to the Healing Lodge and have a meeting or something there. So it was a lot of work, but it was worth it, and as Jennifer has talked about or touched on, working with those kids is an award that you're giving back as an adult to them so they don't have to go through hell, as it's said. So thank you."

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