Leaders in a northern Manitoba First Nation have declared a state of emergency, as mental health issues, addictions, and increasingly violent behaviour continue to harm people and take lives in the community.
On Monday, 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 is calling on both the federal and provincial governments for assistance to resolve issues she says have “plagued” the northern community for years, but that have become far more prevalent in recent months.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Ducharme said. “We are dealing with emergencies and tragedy on a daily basis here it seems.
“Our people are dying, and as leadership, we have to do something.”
In OPCN, a remote community located more than 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Ducharme said they have dealt with a “string of deaths” but while she said a lot of that can be blamed on mental health issues and addictions, they are also increasingly seeing disturbing acts of violence.
“A big factor in this recently has become the violence,” Ducharme said.
The community had been in the news recently, after it was learned that 47-year-old Noreen Tait of OPCN was killed in an attack in the community that RCMP said took place last month.
“Noreen Tait was lost, and it was due to a brutal beating,” Ducharme said. “That has been very, very hard for our community to work through.”
RCMP announced this week there has now been one arrest, and one man is now facing manslaughter charges in Tait’s death.
Ducharme added there are several short-term and long-term solutions needed in the community.
“We need councellors and traditional healers to start working with our people in crisis immediately, but the long-term things we need are so important too,” she said.
“We currently have a very small health care complex and it is insufficient and nurses are exhausted from the treatement they are administering for violence, so we need better health care.
“Abused women in the community can come forward, but often there is nowhere for them to go when they want to break away from that abuse or find a place where they can be safe, so we need those kinds of facilities.
“And we need addictions treatment in the community, because right now people are waiting up to six months for treatment openings in Thompson or Nelson House, and that is a long, long time to wait when someone is ready to take that step.”
In an email, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said federal officials have been in contact with OPCN leaders and are looking for ways to help and support the community, and added that Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu has also been in “regular contact” with leadership in the community.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of loved ones in the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin community,” the spokesperson said in the email. “Providing supports to the community through the grief, hurt and healing is our top priority.
“That is why departmental officials in the region met with O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, and partners including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and the Red Cross on March 4 and 6, 2023, to understand the needs of the community in this time of crisis, and identify ways the department can provide support.”
A spokesperson for the provincial government said that as of Tuesday afternoon there had been no communication between OPCN and the province regarding the state of emergency, but also touted what they said were recent improvements and investment in mental health care across the province.
“The Department of Mental Health and Community Wellness (MHCW) is leading a whole-of-government approach to ensure that mental health and addictions supports and services are available and accessible throughout Manitoba,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“This includes moving forward with implementation of the MHCW five-year strategy, A Pathway to Mental Health and Community Wellness: A Roadmap for Manitoba.”
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 09, 2023