Teen rehab center proposed near Bowler

Public hearing to focus on new venture in Stockbridge-Munsee Community
Kevin Passon

An Adolescent Recovery and Wellness Center (ARWC) could soon find its way to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 9 a.m. June 15 at the Orion Event Center at North Star Mohican Casino Resort.

The $18 million ARWC would be operated by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC).

According to the GLITC, the facility design vision integrates multiple tribal wellness themes and harnesses the healing power of nature and the four elements – wind, fire, water and earth. A color palette representing the four seasons brings to mind the transitions everyone goes through in life and reminds all of the potential for rebirth and healing.

“The proposed youth recovery and wellness center is a 36-bed residential facility centrally located in Wisconsin to best serve all (12) member tribes and urban Indians,” said Bryan Bainbridge, GLITC chief executive officer. “It will provide culturally relevant services and responsive residential substance abuse treatment for Native American youths, ages 13-17, who are suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and any co-occurring mental health conditions. Priority will be given to Native American youths, but the facility would be open to non-Native adolescents as well.”

It would include resident pods with rooms, showers, a kitchen, and living and family spaces. There would also be communal gathering and dining spaces.

Initial plans to build in the Town of Cassian in Oneida County were scuttled after town officials opposed the recovery center.

Town officials passed a resolution that, among other things, asked the Oneida County Planning and Zoning Committee and the Oneida County Board of Supervisors deny zoning permits for the center unless the GLITC could guarantee the center would not adversely impact the welfare, economic security and public safety of the town residents.

In early April, the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee denied a conditional use permit for the project. Committee Chairman Scott Holewinski said the GLITC failed to prove the center wouldn’t have a negative effect on nearby property values.

Bainbridge rebuffed those arguments and others in a four-page letter to town supervisors after they approved the resolution.

The resolution stated the town could not afford financial support for the construction or day-to-day maintenance demands.

“We have not — and will not — approach the town for financial support for construction, infrastructure, operations, or maintenance,” Bainbridge wrote. “Zero financial support is being asked — or will be asked — of the Town of Cassian.”

Bainbridge also said the economic impact of the center would be positive, not negative.

“We estimate 50 new jobs ranging from medical professionals to maintenance staff,” he wrote. “We will fund infrastructure improvements associated with the facility, such as road paving, utilities, and broadband connectivity to name a few.”

Youths at the recovery center would be there voluntarily to get help in fighting their addictions.

“Doing nothing to fight addiction will only continue to diminish the quality of life for all residents of Oneida County — including the Town of Cassian — and the Northwoods,” Bainbridge wrote, an argument equally true for the Bowler area proposal. “The associated costs of not approving this youth treatment facility are too great.”

According to GLITC promotional materials, each person with a dependency on alcohol, drugs, and other substances has their own story, their own history, their own cultural identity. All of these need to be considered to individualize treatment and provide the most appropriate wrap-around recovery care services for the individual and their family as they re-enter their communities.

The healing practices would be aimed at strengthening cultural connectivity to improve mental and behavioral wellness and reduce risky behaviors such as alcohol, commercial tobacco and other substance abuse.

Youths would be provided the necessary tools, life skills, rehabilitation services and cultural mentorship to strengthen their cultural identity, enabling them to lead healthy and productive lives.

ARWC programs will model characteristics of the best treatment programs:

• Accredited, licensed or certified.

• Offer medications for opioid addiction.

• Use treatments that are evidenced-based and proven to work.

• Include family and friends in the treatment process.

• Provide long-term treatment and support.

• For Native Americans, incorporate cultural elements and traditional healing practices as well as community support.

The GLITC said the recovery center would help youths suffering from three threats to their well-being:

• Historical trauma: Native Americans perennially experiencing higher rates of suicide, homicide, domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism and drug use – grounded in long-term effects of historical trauma, the result of unresolved grief across generations, and longstanding structural inequalities and racism.

• Opioid use disorder (OUD): The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Native Americans are 50% more likely to die from an opioid overdose than non-Natives.

• The COVID–19 pandemic and aftermath: Mental health effects of isolation and an increase of drug use.

In late 2019, the GLITC board of directors, made up of the tribal chairperson or president from each of the member tribes (including the Stockbridge-Munsee Community and Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin), identified six priority areas: housing, drug crisis, mental and behavioral health, economic development, health care and emergency management support planning.

According to the GLITC, all these priorities have worsened because of the pandemic. Immediate action is needed to minimize the impacts to Native Americans and their families, to tribal communities and economies, and to support the health and well-being of future generations.

The plan to build the treatment center started in 2017 when the state Legislature approved giving $200,000 from tribal gaming revenue to the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation to assess the feasibility of the project.

In 2019, the Legislature approved $640,000 from tribal gaming revenue to pay for the center’s architectural plans, led by the GLITC.