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Lack of resources and police presence, combined with bootlegging and drug dealing blamed for death of young man in Sayisi Dene First Nation

First Nation’s chief calls for mental wellness and addictions supports as well as cell phone service and better internet connectivity in Manitoba’s northernmost First Nation, accessible by road only briefly during winter.
A lack of resources, no full-time police presence and the prevalence of alcohol and illegal drugs played a role in the recent death of a young man in Sayisi Dene First Nation, Northern Manitoba First Nations leaders say.

First Nations leaders in Northern Manitoba are calling for more resources to support mental wellness among youth and mechanisms to curb bootlegging and illegal drug sales after the death of a young person in Sayisi Dene First Nation.

The first nation’s Chief Evan Yassie issued a statement of condolences Jan. 29 after the death of a young man who died in a “tragic and hurtful way.”

“We need to work together on an urgent basis to address the need for more resources, address the addictions, and to put supports in place for the benefit of our youth,” Yassie wrote.

The following day, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents Sayisi Dene First Nation and 25 other First Nations in Northern Manitoba, sent out a statement by Grand Chief Garrison Settee, which said that the events that led to the death began with the consumption of drugs that are believed to have been delivered via Canada Post to the remote community, located at Tadoule Lake and only accessible by air except during winter road season.

“I have repeatedly raised with the Manitoba justice minister, premier of Manitoba and senior officials the urgent need to make arrangements to inspect mail, parcels and packages for alcohol and drugs being delivered into MKO First Nations,” Settee’s statement said.

He said the provincial government's responses to previous requests have prohibited First Nations Safety Officers from carrying out searches of passengers or cargo at airports. 

Sayisi Dene First Nation does not have an RCMP detachment and Settee says remote First Nations without a full-time police presences have high violent crime rates, which are strongly associated with alcohol and drug use, abuse and addictions.

Remoteness and isolation are always challenges for residents of Sayisi Dene First Nation, Yassie said, and the resulting problems have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures instituted in response. The negative effects of isolation and COVID-related lack of normal social gatherings have affected youth especially hard, the chief said.

“Young people are calling out for resources and I urge provincial and federal partners to provide support to them immediately,” Yassie said.

In addition to mental wellness and addictions treatment supports, Sayisi Dene First Nation needs better internet connectivity and to be connected to the rest of Manitoba by the introduction of cell phone service, said Yassie.

Both he and Settee said mental wellness, addictions, violence and other social issues are all connected and can not be addressed using a piecemeal approach.

“It will take a co-ordinated approach to address these issues in a holistic culturally relevant way,” said Yassie.

“There must be a committed, focused, multi-jurisdictional engagement of policing, health, harm reduction, social services, and child and family services to address the harm caused and victims created by the virtually unrestrained activities of bootleggers and drug dealers and the adverse effects and too-often-tragic outcomes of alcohol and drug use, abuse and addictions,” echoed Settee.

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