A First Nation in northern Manitoba, “desperate” for help after the suicides of nine young people in the last 14 months, has declared a state of emergency and asked federal and provincial authorities for urgent help to deal with a mental health crisis in the community.
The Tataskweyak Cree Nation has asked for “immediate” supports for mental wellness and long-term solutions for its community.
“We’re in a desperate situation here right now,” Tataskweyak Chief Doreen Spence said in a telephone interview from her community Wednesday afternoon. “We don’t want to lose any more youth. And so we we have to we need anyone out there that is willing to help our community contact us in terms of what they can support.
The community, which is connected by road to Thompson, has approximately 2,600 people living on reserve, with another 1,300 living off reserve.
The First Nation said that they have reached out for mobile crisis teams from the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and the Keewatin Tribal Council, as well as requested help from Health Canada, Indigenous Services, the RCMP and the province of Manitoba.
“Everybody’s hurt and in disbelief of what’s happening to our young people,” Spench said. “And this is a wake up call for us, too, that, you know, we have to do something to help our people
The MKO, an advocacy organization which represents several northern Manitoba First Nationsl including the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, expressed its support in a press release Wednesday.
“I am extremely saddened to hear about the situation in Tataskweyak Cree Nation. My thoughts are with the community as they grapple with another loss of a young person due to suicide,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in the release.
Nine youths between the ages fo 15 and 19 have died by suicide in the community over the past 14 months and an unspecified number of others have attempted suicide and self-harm, the band said.
The community is asking for around-the-clock mental health counselling, a crisis drop-in centre and a commitment to protect young and vulnerable people from illicit drugs and bootlegging.
Spence said that there have been several other factors behind the community’s crisis aside from drugs and alcohol. The disruptions from a year of isolation due to COVID-19 lockdowns and the recent discoveries of unmarked burial sites at former residential schools across Canada have had a major impact on the community’s mental health, Spence and other community leaders said.
The federal department of Indigenous Services is aware of the requests from Tataskweyak Cree Nation’s chief and council.
Two mental health therapists were providing support to the nation during regular working hours and the community has primary care nurses available during the day and for emergencies on weekends and evenings.