Eleven Manitoba First Nations declared states of emergency on Thursday, March 23, 2023, as leaders say conditions are dire and deteriorating rapidly and leading to wide-scale suffering.
At a media conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC) Grand Chief Walter Wastesicoot joined several other First Nations leaders, and said that the 11 communities represented by KTC are now calling a “regional state of emergency.”
The Keewatin Tribal Council represents 11 communities located in Northern Manitoba, and Wastesicoot said the state of emergency is due to “system-wide deficiencies in public safety, health services, and infrastructure.”
During Thursday’s media conference, Wastesicoot read from a letter that he said is now being sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, and to other federal and provincial government officials, as KTC says they need the province and the feds to step in and offer “immediate assistance.”
“Our communities are remote northern communities in crisis, plagued by an opioid epidemic, chronic under-funding of health care services, and inadequate infrastructure,” the letter reads.
Wastesicoot said all of the 11 First Nations represented by KTC are asking both the federal and provincial governments for “immediate action in resolving the issues that are plaguing our communities.”
He said he believes government inaction will lead to more suffering and death in all of those communities.
“Every week we are forced to bury our people who have died due to suicide, violence, inadequate medical services, drug overdose, complications from diabetes, and other preventable circumstances,” Wastesicoot said.
He added the 11 First Nations asking for help are currently running under a system of “legislated negligence.”
KTC represents the Barren Lands First Nation, Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, God’s Lake First Nation, Manto Sipi Cree Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, Sayisi Dene First Nation, Shamattawa First Nation, Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory First Nation.
Thursday’s announcement comes after the Shamattawa First Nation and the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation both declared states of emergency earlier this month.
On March 13, Shamattawa First Nation Chief Jordna Hill said he was declaring a state of emergency in the remote northern community due to recent incidents, including a fire that left numerous families homeless, as well as multiple recent suicides in the community.
And on March 6, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN) Chief Shirley Ducharme said she had declared a state of emergency in the community, also commonly referred to as South Indian Lake.
Ducharme said she was calling on both the federal and provincial governments for assistance to resolve issues she says have “plagued” OPCN for years, but that have become far more prevalent in recent months, including mental health issues, addictions, and a several recent acts of violence.
Neither the provincial nor federal governments replied to requests for comment.
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 23, 2023