Niigaaniin Services provide holistic, social services in new way

Niigaaniin Services is repurposing the Bio Centre aiming to grow and distribute healthy foods in the North Shore communities

In partnership with Thessalon First Nation, Niigaaniin Services is repurposing the Bio Centre, formerly a Ministry of Natural Resources Tree Nursery located in Thessalon, Ont. 

The Bio Centre has 16 greenhouses and cold storage facilities with a certified organic food processing and packaging area. The site also offers 80 acres of farmlands ready to produce healthy fruits, traditional medicines, and vegetables for all Indigenous People in the Robinson Huron Treaty Area. 

“We estimate that number to be 5,000 on reserve and another 15,000 that live in off-reserve within the Robinson Huron treaty area,” said Elizabeth Richer, director of Niigaaniin Services. “We are trailblazing a new way to deliver holistic, wrap-around social services to our community members. This is an ambitious pursuit of Mino Bimaadizidaa (living well together), but very achievable, very soon with this partnership.” 

Mamaweswen, The North Shore tribal council, has invested over $1 million into a complete retrofit of the greenhouses with intentions to grow and distribute healthy foods to Nutrition Cupboards in the North Shore communities and off reserve populations through the Indigenous Friendship Centre location in Elliot Lake, Ontario. 

However, the project is not just about food. The site also will serve as a regional hub for the umbrella of services Niigaaniin offers to the First Nations that make up Mamaweswen, the North Shore tribal council. Niigaaniin delivers social well-being support to eight North Shore communities, equalling 7 per cent of the entire on-reserve population in Ontario. Our service model is holistic, providing wrap-around support from the beginning of a person’s healing journey. Niigaaniin’s land-based healing programs have operated since 2018. In the fall of 2021, Endayaan Endazhi-Takookiiyaan launched and offered the first Land Based Detox Program and family support program in the Robinson Huron Treaty Area. 

Niigaaniin Services consults with community members on the North Shore regarding their wants and needs and develop programming based on what is shared. Along with food security and land-based treatment, the site will offer Community Members a safe, community-based place to live and work for as much time as needed as part of their recovery and aftercare journey. 

The fourth aspect of the site is to create an alternative to the custody option for courts to consider when utilizing Gladue factors during sentencing. 

“It is well known that Indigenous Peoples are grossly over-represented in the current prison population in Ontario and Canada,” said Dorothy Coad, Niigaaniin Services Aaniish Naa manager (mental health and addictions). “We have lived experience working with individuals that are in the criminal justice system that simply have nowhere to go and are in and out of jail receiving no treatment and no healing. If we can create a space to offer culturally safe recovery and healing, we can make sustainable change for Indigenous People.”