FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- While the walls may be up and the beds may be set in the new addiction treatment center at the Spirit Lake Nation, leaders say there’s still work to be done.

Renovations were recently completed on the new 15-bed substance abuse treatment center.

Developed in collaboration with the Spirit Lake Recovery & Wellness program, Tiospaye Okciyapi Tipi, which translates to "home for families helping families," will help expand access to treatment services.

The project was made possible by a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the United Health Foundation to Cankdeska Cikana Community College.

The goal of the facility is to provide treatment and support for adults in the Spirit Lake Nation who are dealing with drug addiction in a culturally sensitive environment. The project, which held a groundbreaking ceremony in August 2018, came a year after a community assessment found the No. 1 priority on the Spirit Lake Nation was the protection of the health and well-being of the children, according to Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College.

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Lindquist, one of the leaders behind the project, spoke about the number of state and federal officials involved in making the facility possible and the continued collaboration between the state and the tribal nations.

“(It means) another beginning, hope,” Lindquist said. “We know what we’re doing; we have solutions to our problems and issues. We need help to do that and address it and the representation today is exactly that. If we work together, we can get it done.”

Gov. Doug Burgum and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum were present for the ceremony, along with members of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council and the Cankdeska Cikana Community College Board of Regents. Also present were House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, representatives from Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer’s offices and many more state leaders, along with many Spirit Lake community members.

In his remarks, Burgum said addiction is a disease that’s touching every family, every community and everybody in the state and the entire country.

“To see all the efforts coming together from private sector foundations, tribal leadership, executive, judicial, legislative (leadership) to celebrate this new beginning … is very much an exciting day and we’re honored to be a part of it," he said.

Helgaas Burgum said she and her husband want to see everyone in the state, including those in tribal nations, reach their full potential to help make the state stronger. She said she is excited about the opportunity this new facility will provide to the people of the Spirit Lake Nation.

“I’m so grateful that they have this place where they can start healing generations of people so that future kids and the next generation of leaders have the opportunity to reach their potential,” Hegaas Burgum said.

Joseph Jahner, a student at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock tribe, is one of 12 students who are a part of the United Health Foundation's Diverse Scholars Initiative. Jahner received a scholarship as a part of the program.

Jahner is studying social work and plans to attend Minot State University after he graduates next spring to get his master's degree in addiction studies.

Jahner, who is in recovery, said he was once incarcerated due to substance abuse. Many people have helped him through his recovery and now he wants to reach out to others.

“There’s multiple people that played avid roles in my recovery and (becoming a social worker) is my way of giving back and trying to help out and help people get to a better place,” he said.

The completion of the facility on the Spirit Lake reservation is a positive move to the community.

“It’s a great thing ... especially for a community like this,” Jahner said. “For these dignitaries to be here and support a community like this … I think it’s an amazing thing. I’m just really glad to be here and be a part of it.”

Burgum said the project combines all three of his initiatives as governor: tribal engagement, addiction recovery and building healthy, vibrant communities.

“It’s about us working together government to government between the tribal nations and the state of North Dakota, serving all the citizens in the state and all the members of the tribe,” he said.

While the opening of the facility is a milestone itself, Lindquist indicated there’s still more work to be done. The next issue is staffing the site. However, there are a few barriers in place which make that task difficult, Burgum said.

Professional licensure remains an issue for North Dakota, Helgaas Burgum said. If someone is already a licensed addiction counselor in another state, they are not able to transfer that license to North Dakota, making it difficult, and costly, for licensed counselors to move and work in the state.

Helgaas Burgum pointed to a concern that even if someone moves to North Dakota with 20 years of experience, he or she cannot get immediately licensed.

“That’s just ridiculous, especially with the amount of people that need help in the state,” she said. “People don’t want to open treatment centers if they can’t staff them.”

The Legislature passed a “trailing spouses” bill this session, which makes it easier for military spouses who have professional licenses issued by other states to receive North Dakota licenses.

The governor and first lady each gave a number of examples of situations where licensed addiction counselors wanted to work at the Spirit Lake substance abuse treatment center, but couldn’t because of licensing issues.

“Facilities are great, but you have to have the qualified people to do it and we’re putting up unnecessary barriers to allow qualified people that are certified in states that have great programs and great success. We’re putting up too many barriers to them here,” Burgum said.