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Athabasca Tribal Council declares regional state of emergency due to mental health, addictions crisis


The Athabasca Tribal Council declared a regional state of emergency on Thursday it said was caused by an "escalating mental health and addictions crisis."

The ATC — which serves Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation — made the announcement at 10 a.m. in Fort McMurray.

Since January, at least 30 people from the five communities have died as a result of an overdose, suicide or results of self-harm, ATC said in a release.

The five First Nations have declared individual states of emergency, but ATC decided to call a regional emergency in an attempt to receive immediate and sustainable funding.

"We owe it to our communities to take action, to make them feel safe and strong…we owe it to ourselves to make a future we thrive in and not suffer daily," said Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, ATC's president.

"All we're asking for is for some fairness so we can support and look after our people while we go through this crisis," Chipewyan Prairie First Nation Chief Vern Janvier added.

With continued funding, the ATC would focus on creating a regional plan for a coordinated response and establishing ongoing local and "culturally-safe" resources for mental health and addictions care.

That care would include detoxification, treatment and post-treatment centres, and community well-being and crisis response teams.

"Our communities continue to struggle due to the lack of local culturally-relevant safe resources," Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey said.

"There is no help available," he said through tears.

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, Alberta's minister of mental health and addiction, Dan Williams said, in part:

"We have been working tirelessly to make resources for recovery available for anyone, anywhere in Alberta starting with the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. This program gives no-waitlist, no-fee, same-day access to life saving addiction treatment medication. We have been committed since day one to working with Indigenous partners to address the issue of addiction in their communities, and we reaffirmed that to the Athabasca Tribal Council yesterday when meeting with them to discuss the challenges they face."

In another statement, the federal government said an Indigenous Service Canada team was deployed in the area this year along with nearly $6 million in funding.

“The loss of a loved one due to suicide or overdose is a life altering event, with devastating impacts for families and communities. We share the concerns of Athabasca Tribal Council, and we are committed to working with all partners, including the Provincial Government, to support community led solutions that really work," said Zeus Eden, the press secretary for the office of the minister of Indigenous Services. 

"We will continue to work with the Athabasca Tribal Council and all communities in the Wood Buffalo area to offer services that are culturally-appropriate and self-determined.” Top Stories

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