A group of First Nations in northern British Columbia has declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis, citing an “increasingly alarming” number of deaths in recent weeks.
Carrier Sekani Family Services and 11 chiefs are calling on the federal and provincial governments to take action and fund a new healing and treatment center for their communities.
“I can share with you that in the last two weeks, the communities we serve lost three more lives to this crisis,” Chief Corrina Leween said in a Tuesday press release.
“Three more people who were loved and deserved help.”
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The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council represents seven First Nations whose territory covers nearly seven hectares of the northern interior of British Columbia.
Its members include the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, the Tl’zat’en Nation, the Ts’il Kaz Koh / Burns Lake Gang, the Takla Lake First Nation, the Nadleh Whut’en Gang, the Saik’uz First Nation. and Stellat’en First Nation.
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Leween said the opioid crisis is also affecting children in government care, particularly those in the custody of the Ministry of Child and Family Development.
“Some of these children also suffer addictions and deaths related to opioids,” he said.
“We need this treatment center as part of the comprehensive care we strive to provide to the clients and families we serve.”
The facility would be built in Tachick Lake on property already acquired by First Nations specifically for that purpose. It would include detox services and traditional, cultural and Western treatments and aftercare, according to the statement.
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A “supply of toxic drugs” combined with the “damage of historical and current colonialism” has led to indigenous peoples dying from toxic drugs at a much higher rate than other residents of British Columbia, he added.
Last year, the First Nations Health Authority reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sharp beak in overdose deaths among First Nations people in British Columbia.
“There are many barriers to the treatment of indigenous peoples, including underlying systemic racism and experiences of stigma among people who use alcohol and other substances,” the health authority said in a press release in July 2020. “This points out to the need for a greater culture of safety and humility in health services ”.
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Carrier Sekani Family Services said the healing and treatment center would fulfill the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s key calls to action to integrate culture and spirituality into programming.
“What we need now is a financial commitment from the federal and provincial governments that claim to prioritize indigenous needs,” Leween said.
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