Two separate police forces investigating complaints at healing centre

According to Poundmaker’s, the Elder is no longer on staff because of allegations

A Poundmaker's vehicle with an image of its namesake - Chief Poundmaker of Saskatchewan. Facebook

Two police departments in Alberta are investigating allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour at Poundmaker’s Lodge, an Indigenous-owned healing centre in St. Albert.

Last week, RCMP in Morinville confirmed they opened a “criminal harassment” file involving a male employed as a spiritual advisor/elder at the centre, but no charges have been laid.

Now, the Edmonton Police Service has received a complaint about a male counsellor at the same centre.

A former client told APTN News a married counsellor texted her at home, picked her up after midnight in his vehicle, and drove her to an Edmonton fast food outlet “for coffee.”

“At Poundmaker’s he was the only one I would talk to about everything,” the 20-year-old said in an interview. “I just found it weird that he would come to my house.”

On a second visit, when he parked the vehicle on a side street and asked for oral sex, she said she complied.

“Then his (wife video-) called as he was taking me home and he yelled at me to get in the back of the car. He told me to jump in the back and he threw his child’s blanket on me to hide me.”

The former client said she heard from the counsellor again via text and he was angry “because we were going to tell Poundmaker’s” what happened.

“I still have the texts,” she added.

The woman said she filed a complaint with a Poundmaker’s official and the counsellor is no longer at the centre.

Additional allegations surface against Elder

Poundmaker’s has so far declined to be interviewed by APTN.

But it did post a statement online saying the Elder no longer works there after it learned about the initial allegation against him from a woman who just ended her residential treatment.

The allegation was posted on Facebook by the woman’s sister.

Since then,  APTN has spoken with other clients who allege the Elder identified in the Facebook post acted inappropriately with them.

These clients say they don’t know each other and weren’t in treatment at the same time.

“I went back (to the centre) and I saw (the elder),” said the same woman who reported the counsellor.

“He said, ‘Oh, I’ve been praying for you.’ And he came over and like touched my boob and said: ‘I’m praying for your heart.’”

She said she complained the next day. And then left the program.

She said it wasn’t the first time the man touched her inappropriately. She alleged he also touched her breast during an off-site ceremony at a home owned by Poundmaker’s in a nearby community.

“We were in ceremony – sometime in October – and he just brought out his penis while we were in a smudge…He told me…he didn’t get a desire from his wife, that he wanted one of us, and sweats were supposed to be done naked.”

She said she told him his behaviour was “gross” and he became upset.

“He was pretty pissed. He’s like, ‘You better not tell anyone.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to.’”

She said it happened while only a few female clients were in the room.

More clients speak out on experience at Poundmaker’s

Another former client said she observed the elder “touching himself when we were in sweats.” She said he made her feel uncomfortable.

“He’d be grinning at me, brushing up against me in the hallway, touching my back,” she said. “Asking me if I wanted to do private prayer.

“He was very, very creepy. This isn’t just being friendly.”

APTN is not naming the elder or counsellor until they can be reached for comment.

Neither man has been charged with a crime so none of the allegations against them have been tested in court.

Another former client said a sweatlodge ceremony had just ended at the centre when the elder exposed himself to her. She said another female client witnessed the alleged act.

“His shorts were down to his knees. They were long shorts…when my eyes followed that, his everything – his penis and testicles – were out.”

She said the conversation continued and, at first, she thought maybe it was a mistake.

“And when (the other female client) saw the same thing, and looked up at him and started to say something, I stopped her…because this is our elder and we don’t want to bring him shame.”

She now feels it was an intentional act by the elder.

“There’s just so many of us at different times that, like, how can that be a mistake?” she said in an interview.

“These other women coming forward with that, as soon as I heard that there was an elder and inappropriateness, my mind flashed back to that.”

She said she has contacted the RCMP.

“Now that it’s on Facebook, it’s a positive thing that we can share our stories and realize we’re not alone,” she added.

“It seems to be triggering a bunch of other people (who are remembering), ‘OK, yeah, this happened.’ Even to some of the men. It’s just awful.”

Former male client makes allegations

APTN spoke with a former male client who said a married male counsellor contacted him at home after he graduated from the program.

“He ended up extorting me for $3,000. And I ended up having a sexual relationship with him.”

The former client said he reported the inappropriate contact to Poundmaker’s and the man was fired.

“This counsellor I had the affair with – he was married with three kids – and he got very violent. And when I told him I didn’t want to be with him…he told me he was going to kill me.”

The former client said he filed a complaint with police who he said advised him to obtain a restraining order against the counsellor.

However, what really bothered the former client was the way he said was treated on a return visit to the centre.

He said he was “blacklisted” by staff, not allowed to visit who he came to see, and told to leave.

“The way they’re behaving is shocking,” he said. “For a healing centre? It’s dysfunctional.”

Poundmaker’s not answering questions about allegations

Clients told APTN they lived in a dormitory-style building on the site of a former Indian residential school, and received Indigenous-led treatment for drug and alcohol addiction at a cost of about $300 a day.

They said this included one-on-one meetings with counsellors and participation in various Indigenous ceremonies.

One of the former clients said a female elder was praying in Cree “for all the women that were lying.” She said the female elder was referring to the accusations about the male elder exposing himself.

“After I heard that, then that’s when I (realized) I couldn’t continue with this program because I don’t feel safe spiritually or supported by the only other elder that’s here,” she said.

“It makes me just really sad for all these people that are vulnerable and in treatment and trying to get help and then this has happened.”

Poundmaker’s was established in the 1970s and has earned a reputation for helping Indigenous people overcome the effects of addiction.

“Groups from around the globe have participated in treatment, studied our methods, and applied them to programs in their own countries,” it said on its website.

It noted in its statement on Facebook that it would co-operate with a police investigation.

Meanwhile, the sisters who initially posted the first allegation against the male elder on Facebook said their late grandmother from Saddle Lake Cree Nation helped open the centre.

So it was natural their younger sister would attend the program when she needed help, said eldest sister Kathryn Chodzicki.

They defend their use of social media to broadcast the allegation.

“Exposing them online, that was a way of showing – other people are coming forward because of that – them that they’re not alone.”

The RCMP investigation into the elder was first reported by CTV Edmonton.

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.