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B.C.’s first detox services for Indigenous youth coming to Island

April 9, 2024 at 12:49 pm  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

Indigenous youth on Vancouver Island struggling with drug addiction will soon benefit from a first-of-its-kind treatment centre that will offer culturally relevant detox and treatment services. 

The Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre in Lantzville will be the first in the province to offer detox services, specifically for Indigenous youth. First Nations people in B.C. are almost six times more likely to die from illicit-drug poisoning than other people in the province. Access to culturally appropriate, Indigenous-led, mental-health and addictions treatment is something Indigenous people have been asking for, as a way to combat increased rates of relapse, overdoses and other related harms.

“The toxic-drug crisis is a tragedy, one that disproportionately affects Indigenous people,” said Premier David Eby. “Rooting treatment for addictions and mental-health issues in Indigenous knowledge has the power to transform a young person’s life. Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre will provide that support, and our government is proud to support such an innovative approach to help vulnerable youth.”

The centre will provide 20 substance-use treatment beds that offer culturally informed care to Indigenous people aged 12 to 18 years. Services will be available in phases, starting in June 2024, as more staff get hired and trained. The centre is expected to be operating at full capacity in fall 2024. 

Ten of the beds will be reserved for short-term detox and stabilization, while the other 10 beds will support young people with addiction services through a 10 week, holistic live-in and culture-based healing program. The centre will accept dropins and continuous intake for the detox program, while the treatment program will operate up to four times per year. Having both streams of services available at the same time provides the best level of support for people needing long-term and short-term care. In addition, specialized trauma and grief services will be provided during weeks when the addiction treatment program is not operating.

“Indigenous youth struggling with mental-health and addiction challenges often face barriers including racism and a lack of appropriate resources when it comes to accessing the care they need,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Offering supports informed by Indigenous knowledge is key to supporting them on this journey, so they can feel safe and connected to their culture while they focus on their healing in the short and long term.”

The youth centre will be managed by Orca Lelum Wellness Society and will employ at least 50 staff members, including medical staff, clinical counsellors, cultural workers, intake workers and wellness support staff. Orca Lelum Wellness Society is an Indigenous Child and Family Service Agency, established in 1994. The organization offers traditional approaches to healing and growth that empower children, youth and families on Vancouver Island.

“The support I received from a truly caring team helped me to start reconnecting with my culture and guided me toward my healing journey,” said Kaitlyn McMahon-White, a youth advocate with Orca Lelum. “What Orca Lelum is offering is more than a service; it’s a pathway for our youth to feel empowered and connect to community, culture and the land. An experience that can help our youth on their wellness and healing journeys.” 

The centre is supported by a $171-million investment in Indigenous-led treatment, recovery and after-care services. Working with Indigenous communities to provide culturally appropriate services is a critical part of the Province’s efforts to expand access to mental-health and addictions care so that more people can get the care they need in their communities.


Dr. Robina Thomas, board chair, Orca Lelum Society

“We are proud to offer a real solution in response to the devastating drug and mental-health crisis faced by our young people. Drawing from the strengths of both worlds, mainstream wellness approaches are weaved with Indigenous ways of healing to create stronger outcomes. We believe in nurturing the whole person, integrating heart, mind, body and spirit to instil purpose and lasting connection beyond treatment.”

Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo

“We all want youth to have culturally relevant and welcoming places of healing in times of crisis. I am so glad our B.C. government will fund the Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre to provide life-changing mental health and addictions treatment.” 

Richard Jock, CEO, First Nation Health Authority

“The First Nations Health Authority is driven by the needs of First Nations communities, and right now we’re hearing the need for more mental-health-and-addictions services and support. The Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre will help to reach a historically under-served population and bring us a step closer to our shared goals of achieving meaningful reconciliation and getting First Nations People in B.C. the culturally safe care they need, when and where they need it.”

Leah Hollins, board chair, Island Health

“Providing accessible substance-use treatment and recovery services to Indigenous youth that is close to their home communities is key in providing culturally appropriate care. Island Health is proud to partner with FNHA and the Orca Lelum Wellness Society on this vitally important service, enabling Indigenous youth to receive supports closer to their families and communities.”

Quick Facts:

  • The Province is investing more than $7 million for initial funding, through Budget 2023’s $171-million investment in Indigenous-led treatment, recovery and after-care services.
  • The centre is also being supported by an additional $1 million from Island Health Authority.

Learn More:

To learn about Orca Lelum Wellness Centre, visit

To learn about mental-health and substance-use supports through First Nations Health Authority, visit:

To learn about mental-health and substance-use supports in B.C., visit:

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