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Rehab center blazes healing path

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News from the Arlee Rehabilitation Center

ARLEE — The opportunity to use animals for reservation healing hasn’t been widely recognized. A new nonprofit, the Arlee Rehabilitation Center, is blazing a path that it hopes will someday bring this innovative model to reservation communities throughout Montana and beyond. ARC’s unique mission is to serve the Flathead Indian Reservation by providing a sanctuary where animals heal people and people heal animals.

This summer, ARC is launching its inaugural Pawsitively Healing Camp that will provide 20 low-income reservation youth aged 8-13 with a week-long transformative experience of healing and animal kinship. With CSKT support and blessing, our summer camp will run Aug. 2-6 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Arlee Powwow grounds.  

While there will be a small required copay, families can qualify for tuition sponsorships to cover most of the camp cost. “We plan to provide assistance with transportation where needed,” organizers said. “We are currently accepting applications for camp, recruiting for two paid assistant counselor positions, welcoming volunteers, looking for more tuition sponsors and seeking paid tribal consultants/presenters.”  

Those interested are encouraged to call 406-207-9338 or e-mail

Organizers said that animals present a unique path for overcoming the lack of trust or sense of safety resulting from trauma. ARC’s unique approach recognizes that animals not only have a powerful intuition and proven healing capacity, but they also lack the judgment or consciousness that often create barriers in Indigenous settings. “We harness reservation dog rescue to help vulnerable people struggling with suicide risk, domestic abuse and trauma.”

Bringing kids and animals together for healing, the camp will offer transformative opportunities for kids to connect with dogs, horses and raptors, all holding important significance for native communities. “Through our curriculum, we aim to cultivate capacity for empathy, stress management, self-esteem/empowerment and communication/relationships,” organizers state. “Our camp’s overarching goal is to build social and emotional resiliency that helps mitigate native youth suicide risk.”

A guest presentation will be offered each day, partnering with the Montana Wild Wings Recovery Center, The Warrior Movement (for equine programs), shelter professionals and tribal guest speakers. Other activities will include animal-inspired indigenous ledger art and cuddle time with canines.  Presentation topics will include the traditional role of animals in tribal culture, indigenous storytelling, animal-related careers and breed discrimination as a metaphor for cultural prejudice.

The camp will seek to nurture humane relationships between kids and animals and to increase recognition of the power and potential of animals to provide healing. “We want to help revitalize tribal communities and build indigenous strength by rekindling a healthy, traditional kinship with and appreciation of non-human life,” organizers said.

ARC was inspired by relationships, real-life stories and undeniable needs. First came the recognition that mainstream animal rescue all too often holds a prejudiced and negative view of tribal relationships with animals, not recognizing the socioeconomic roots of people’s struggle and the need for a more holistic healing model.  Next came the opportunity to work with a wonderful community of concerned and empowered Salish and Kootenai community members who cared deeply about both animals and people.

ARC was thus founded in late 2019, initially functioning as a fiscally sponsored program of the Missoula Urban Indian (now All Nations) Health Center. As its first formal act, ARC adopted a Cultural Sensitivity Position Statement that defines its vision and values. “We have a majority tribal board of directors with former tribal councilmember Myrna Dumontier serving as our current president.”

ARC consists of three main programs. Our Reservation Canine Healing Experiment applies Social and Emotional Learning to help mitigate the indigenous youth suicide crisis. It also offers safe sanctuary and animal-assisted therapy to victims of historical trauma and domestic abuse.

ARC’s Paws on the Ground grassroots organizing program recruits tribal community liaisons and volunteers to build trust and emergency response capacity for animals and pet-owners in hard-hit reservation communities and underserved rural areas.

ARC’s Spay/Neuter Taskforce will carry out a Trap and Release and Spay/Neuter Clinic program while offering much-needed additional low-income veterinary support for the reservation.

If you are interested in learning more about ARC, please visit and/or call 406-207-9338.  “If you share our passion for healing animals and people within the reservation community and would like to get involved, we are also currently recruiting for a full-time year-long Americorps VISTA position and for open positions on our board of directors,” organizers state. 

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