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Sioux Valley Dakota Nation declares state of emergency after rash of suicides

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is about 50 kilometres west of Brandon, Manitoba.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is about 50 kilometres west of Brandon, Manitoba. Facebook

A western Manitoba Indigenous community declared a state of emergency after four of its members died of suicide in the past month — three in the past week alone.

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation demanded immediate assistance and money for mental health supports from Indigenous Services Canada, the nation’s governance wrote in an open letter.

“It is with a heavy and solemn heart that we recognize our lack of current resources in the community to properly and appropriately address the ongoing and urgent mental health needs of our people,” reads the memo addressed to the federal minister of Indigenous Services and the provincial minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations.

Read more: First Nations chiefs raise alarm over mental health impacts of COVID-19

The community, which is about 50 km west of Brandon, has requested funding for four, full-time community mental health workers and support for its crisis line workers.

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Currently, there is just one mental health worker employed in the community, while a crisis phone line is staffed by volunteers 24 hours a day.

“It’s overwhelming, our community members are reaching out and… they want to know why? Why are these things happening, what can we do?” said Chief Jennifer Bone in a phone interview.

“I want our community to know that they aren’t alone and no one is alone and myself as chief, I offer all my support and power and I’ll continue to do the work on behalf of every citizen here to procure support moving forward.”

Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller, confirmed $141,000 will be provided to the community for mental health supports, while an emergency response team will arrive in the community Oct. 14.

The community also wants a longer-term plan — a healing lodge meant to address the impacts of colonialism and long-term resources to address health and safety, the memo reads.

The federal government is taking concrete steps for long-term solutions, Vaupshas wrote in an email, by putting $425 million annually into community-based services for First Nations and Inuit communities.

The band council resolution that declared the state of emergency notes COVID-19 safeguards have hindered the community’s ability to conduct traditional grief and trauma practices.

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Vaupshas added the federal government recognizes “the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for mental health support,” pointing to an additional $82.5 million committed to Indigenous communities in August meant for surge capacity and adapting mental health services.

In a news release Saturday evening, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) said it offers condolences and support to the grieving community.

“We are having funerals on a weekly basis and it is wearing us down,” reads a statement from AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, adding that although AMC has worked to assist the community, it needs federal support.

Click to play video 'Canadian government commits $2.5M for Saskatchewan First Nation suicide strategy' Canadian government commits $2.5M for Saskatchewan First Nation suicide strategy
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