Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) said July 14 it is declaring a state of emergency for the community of Split Lake due to recent suicides and incidents of self-harm.
“We are calling for immediate mental wellness supports and long-term solutions for our community members," said a press release sent out by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents TCN and many other Northern Manitoba First Nations. “We have reached a breaking point and our community is under crisis with alcohol and drugs contributing to it.”
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a subsequent press release that four youth have died by suicide in the community in the past two months and that five others died by suicide in the 12 months before that.
“This is an unimaginable loss for this community and our entire province,” he said. “The pain of losing your child is like no other. My heart goes out to those families who are trying to cope with their losses.”
Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton said July 15 that she was contacted by family members of young people who died by suicide and immediately reached out to leaders and community members and also called the minister of Indigenous services to ask him and his department to take immediate and comprehensive action in response to TCN declaring a state of emergency.
“This crisis didn’t just happen,” Ashton said in an emailed statement. “Community members have been clear – the COVID-19 crisis took a toll on young peoples’ mental health. The few resources that existed were overstretched and inadequate. The tragic situation in TCN highlights how Canada is failing to provide supports, yes. But even more, failing to give young people in northern and Indigenous communities hope. The federal government must act now to support TCN in this time of crisis.”
MKO’s mobile crisis team is in Split Lake, and TCN has also reached out to the mobile crisis team from Keewatin Tribal Council and is requesting additional support, including 24/7 in-community mental health counselling, from Health Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, the RCMP and the province of Manitoba.
Settee said a crisis drop-in centre and resources to help protect young and vulnerable people from alcohol and other drugs are needed.
A TCN band councillor, who spoke anonymously to a local journalism initiative reporter at the Winnipeg Sun July 15 because he fears reprisals from people in and out of the community who sell drugs, said it is the amount of substances coming into the community that is causing the crisis.
“That is the biggest problem we are dealing with, it’s the amount of alcohol and drugs being brought into the community, and pushed onto young people,” the councillor said. “And the more it comes in, the more it pushes people over to the dark side. The young people are being exposed to drugs and alcohol, and it really feels like the community is at war with the bootleggers and the drug dealers. There is a high increase of people using, and there is an increase in young people using, and what it is doing is creating this crisis in our community.”
Settee also said children are sacred and the heart of their communities.
“I want to send a message to the youth, and all community members, that you matter,” he said. “You are important and you are loved. If you are considering harming yourself, please reach out to others for help. Suicide and harming yourself is not a solution to the problems you are facing.”
Kids Help Phone is available 24 hours a day for youth who need someone to talk to at 1-800-668-6868. Youth can also communicate with someone by texting “CONNECT” to 686868.
- with files from Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun