Athabasca Tribal Council declares state of emergency due to mental health and addiction crisis

Athabasca Tribal Council addresses Mental Health and Addiction Crisis with Regional State of Emergency – Alex MacLeod

This story contains some content that may be difficult for some readers.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction or mental health crisis, you are encouraged to call the 24/7 Alberta Addiction and Mental Health Help Line at 1-866-332-2322.

The Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) is declaring a Regional State of Emergency due to the ongoing mental health and addictions crisis.

The ATC serves five First Nations in Northern Alberta which consists of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Fort McKay First Nation.

Around 60 members of First Nations served by the ATC have been lost to overdoses, suicides, or results of self-harm, since January.

The ATC was originally planning to hold the conference in June when at the time, they had lost over 30 members, but over the summer have lost more.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief, Allan Adam, has personally lost three family members within the last three months.

There have been more members lost to the recent crisis than were reported by ATC First Nations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grand Chief of Treaty 8, Arthur Noskey, compared those struggling with addiction to trying to find their way through the fog.

Grand Chief of Treaty 8 – Arthur Noskey

“People in addictions do not have that sense to wait. They just venture on looking for the next fix because there is no help available,” said Noskey.

“I challenge you and encourage you as a collective, let’s work together to send a beam amongst that fog for them to see that there is help here.”

Grand Chief Noskey wants to see more resources available in the community so those facing addiction or mental health crises do not have to travel away from their support systems and families for help.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief, Allan Adam, is also concerned about the rise in violence and crime within the community.

Chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation – Allan Adam

“There are two drug dealers in our community. Two gangs fighting over the resources that our community provides,” says Adam.

“And I’ll tell you this and I’m not going to be ashamed of it because I believe that the drug dealers make $17 to $18 million dollars from our community alone on a yearly basis.”

Chief Allan Adam says they are taking the money from the community that could be used to feed and provide for the children in the region.

“I’ll tell you something. Your family members that are selling these opioids to our family, to our people, they’re killing our people at a rate that we can’t stop,” said Adam.

“And yet they walk around our community and hold their head up high like they’re doing a big favour to everybody. They’re not.”

The Regional State of Emergency is calling on the provincial and federal governments to provide immediate and sustainable funding to create a Regional Community Action Plan.

The community action plan will allow the ATC to focus on a coordinated, unified response and approach for dealing with both generational and cultural trauma.

The ATC wants local, sustainable, ongoing, and culturally safe resources for members facing mental health and addiction struggles.

Detoxification, treatment, and post-treatment centres are being explored to provide land-based healing, a physical location, and resources for operation and maintenance.

Community Well-Being Teams and a Crisis Response Team are also on the table to provide appropriate health resources.

The ATC is also looking at developing a regional employment strategy to assist those working to ensure their basic needs are met and families feel supported through recovery.

The final change would be a First Nations-led policing team that can quickly respond to drug issues, address racism, and address the need for increased community security.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction or mental health crisis, you are encouraged to call the 24/7 Alberta Addiction and Mental Health Help Line at 1-866-332-2322.

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