Published on Nov 16, 2022 at 17:17

‘EPIC CRISIS’: 30% of God’s Lake residents have addictions, says chief

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A northern Manitoba Chief estimates as many as 30% of those living in his community are now addicted to drugs, and if support does not come to God’s Lake First Nation soon, he says he has every reason to believe the “epidemic” of drug addiction that has gripped his community will continue to grow, and continue to destroy lives.

According to God’s Lake First Nation Chief Hubert Watt, of the 1,500 people living in the remote northern community more than 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, he now estimates 20-30% of those community members are experiencing drug addiction.

He added in many cases it is methamphetamines that people in the community are addicted to, which in his words has led to a “crisis of epidemic proportions.”

Watt spoke about the crisis at a Monday press conference, and said he believes it is now time for leaders and residents in God’s Lake to come forward, so the rest of the province and the country understand the true scope of the crisis.

“We cannot be embarrassed. Our communities have many traumas that we are still healing from. This is a result of that trauma,” Watt said.

But as Watt now looks for support for his community from both the provincial and federal governments, he and other Indigenous leaders say that so far they have not seen anywhere near enough assistance from either level of government.

Watt also accused both of province and the feds of ignoring the crisis.

“We have called upon the provincial and federal governments for help over and over,” Watt said.

“They continue to ignore the lives being lost and the trauma being inflicted.”

He added he has been consistently frustrated with the response from the federal government, as the drug addiction crisis continues in his community.

Watt laid out on Monday what he believes God’s Lake needs in order to fight the addiction crisis and to start “healing,” saying the community needs an emergency detox centre with more than 100 beds, long-term mental health treatment programs, more mental health therapists, and a safe house for children whose parents are using drugs. 

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a Monday statement that “inaction” is costing lives, and will continue to cost lives in God’s Lake, and in other Manitoba First Nations communities. 

“The consequences from a lack of immediate action and intervention will always be at the expense of First Nation lives,” Settee said. “Our Nations have lost enough, and they continue to pay for the government’s inaction.

“God’s Lake First Nation deserves better. Our First Nations people deserve better.”

In an email, a provincial spokesperson said the province has not yet heard directly from anyone regarding the drug crisis in God’s Lake First Nation.

“The Mental Health and Community Wellness minister’s office and department have not received any requests from God’s Lake leadership, nor has the office of the minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations,” the spokesperson said.

An Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson said they have been meeting regularly with God’s Lake leadership.

“We are deeply troubled by the state of emergency declared by God’s Lake First Nation in relation to addictions issues,” the spokesperson said. “Indigenous Services Canada has been meeting regularly with leadership and partners to discuss both short-term and long-term supports needed for treatment and healing in community. We recognize there is more work to do in order to close the gap in access to quality health care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba

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