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First Nations in northern Ont. demand emergency declaration due to alarming mental health and addiction stats


First Nations chiefs in northern Ontario are calling for a public emergency and social crisis to be declared, emphasizing the disproportionate mental health and addiction problems their communities face compared to the rest of the province.

The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) held its two-day annual general meeting last week. Serves 33 First Nations; 28 of them are considered remote since they do not have access to roads.

Those who attended the meeting in Thunder Bay heard discordant preliminary numbers from a mental health and substance use report being conducted in communities. Figures show band members are being hospitalized for mental health and addiction issues at six times the provincial rate.

From 2011 to 2021, emergency department visits for intentional self-harm nearly doubled and outpatient visits in communities tripled.

Chiefs at the meeting passed a resolution to direct the SLFNHA to:

  • Develop a media and advocacy strategy based on the mental health and substance use report.
  • Develop a joint working group by March 2024.
  • Seek funding from Indigenous Services Canada to host a mental health forum.
  • Call on the federal and Ontario governments to implement various solutions, from resource allocation to policy changes and an attorney general agreement to respond to the crisis.

‘Every number is a person’

The steering committee involved in the SLFNHA mental health report has been listening to stories from community members to integrate Indigenous knowledge into its findings, Dr. Lloyd Douglas, SLFNHA public health physician, told Breaking:.

“When you listen to the storytellers share their experiences, you quickly realize that every statistic, every number, is a person, it’s a mom, it’s a dad, it’s an aunt, an uncle, a cousin,” Douglas said. “This is not something historical, it is extremely current.”

While much of the data collected goes back to 2021, he suspects the numbers have gotten worse since then.

Each statistic, each number, is a person, it is a mother, it is a father, it is an aunt, it is an uncle, it is a cousin.– Dr. Lloyd Douglas, SLFNHA Public Health Physician

The final report is expected to be completed in November, in time to be presented at a special chiefs meeting. The goal of the report is to provide First Nations people with quantitative evidence that can be used to demand more resources.

“It will validate their stories,” Douglas said. “Their voices will be amplified through this report.”

Investments, initiatives in Sioux Lookout

Several new projects have been implemented in Sioux Lookout, which acts as a hub for surrounding First Nations to access health care and social services to meet people’s mental health and addiction needs.

These include the opening of safe rooms at the Meno Ya Win Health Center, a new walk-in addiction clinic in both the hospital and emergency shelter, and new supportive treatment beds. SLFNHA too bought a third hostel this spring to help accommodate some of the thousands of people coming to the city for medical appointments.

“From a coordinated continuum of care perspective, it is important to have a suite of services,” said Sonia Isaac-Mann, CEO and president of SLFNHA.

Sonia Isaac-Mann, CEO and president of SLFNHA, says she supports the Chiefs’ mental health resolution and looks forward to working with communities and other organizations to help them achieve their goals. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

“Those comprehensive services that are needed to [they] Don’t just start treatment; “There’s more to it than that, and it’s about, ‘How do we support them on their journey toward healing and wellness?'” he said.

Isaac-Mann said she sees SLFNHA’s role as helping to coordinate different partners. She supports the chiefs’ resolution on mental health and looks forward to working closely with communities and organizations to help them achieve their goals.

“[The resolution] “It’s very timely and really alerts everyone who has a role to play in this system that we need to do this work, we need to do it now, not three years from now.”

New model of mental health care

SLFNHA is finalizing a new mental health model for the First Nations it serves.

Chief Operating Officer Janet Gordon said the framework takes into consideration a comprehensive review of mental health and addictions, and community consultation.

During the SLFNHA meeting last week, he said these basic principles must be implemented to make mental health and addictions services more accessible:

  • Traditional land-based practices.
  • Language revitalization.
  • Better access to electronic medical records and data.
  • The physical space to offer specialized services.

But all of that depends on flexible and sustainable financing, he said.

“We need a long-term solution and we need … infrastructure to support it at the community level,” Gordon told Breaking:. “It’s about developing those business plans, developing work plans with the communities, with different groups, and establishing some timelines for it.”

The work is expected to be completed in the next four or five months, he added.

“We have identified a model that could address some of those areas in terms of being able to better respond to individual needs so they can access the service,” he said. “Do more prevention and promotion so as not to wait for people to be in crisis or to not take their own lives.”

Another key focus is providing care for young people and ensuring they have safe spaces in their communities and are empowered to lead the next generations, Gordon said.

Leaders Seek Indigenous-Led Health Care

Also at the SLFNHA meeting, chiefs approved a position statement stating they will no longer accept a health care system controlled by the provincial and federal governments and shifting responsibility to First Nations.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug chief Donny Morris, a member of the Council of Chiefs of Health (CCOH), has been a driving force in what is known as the health transformation project, which aims to create a healthcare system led by indigenous people and indigenous property for the population. the First Nations of the region.

A man wearing a purple collared shirt stands in an interior hallway.
Chief Donny Morris of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug was among those who attended the SLFNHA’s two-day annual general meeting in Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

The approval of the position statement has triggered the start of a trilateral negotiation process to:

  • Recognize and support First Nations jurisdiction over public health in SLFNHA communities.
  • Access immediate and sustainable resources to address long-standing gaps in healthcare.
  • Explore interim models of care.
  • Support an informed and culturally based process that prioritizes community participation and experience.

“We signed [a] “We have a treaty to be partners with Ontario and Canada, and only two benefit in that scenario, and that’s why we want to develop our own health system,” Morris told Breaking:.

“Better service, better care and better facilities… that has to happen now,” he said. “We need to be at the table to meet with the provincial and federal government because, like I said, they are our partners. They can’t exclude us when we are treaty partners.”

Approving the position statement means the provincial and federal governments must sit down with First Nations leaders to discuss next steps.

Morris said the plan is to reach out to all parties, including tribal councils and provincial territorial organizations, over the next month.

“It’s going to involve everyone to make this work. [not just] us trying to make the change.”

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