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Group of northern B.C. First Nations declare state of emergency over opioid crisis

Carrier Sekani Family Services needs funding to build a healing and treatment centre on Tachick Lake, on the traditional territory of Saik’uz First Nation in the northern interior of British Columbia. Facebook/Carrier Sekani Family Services

A group of First Nations in northern B.C. has declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis, citing an “increasingly alarming” number of deaths in recent weeks.

Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) and 11 chiefs are calling on the federal and provincial governments to take action and fund a new healing and treatment centre for their communities.

“A lot of our people are lost out there and right now, we’ve got two pandemics to work with and deal with at CSFS,” Chief Corrina Leween told Global News.

“So we’ve issued a state of emergency out of frustration for lack of funding to help us do the work that will benefit B.C. in general.”

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In the past two weeks, three people from communities served by CSFS have died. They were “loved and deserving of help,” said Leween.

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council represents seven First Nations whose territory spans nearly seven million hectares of B.C.’s northern interior.

Its members include the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Tl’zat’en Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh/Burns Lake Band, Takla Lake First Nation, Nadleh Whut’en Band, Saik’uz First Nation, and Stellat’en First Nation.

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Leween said the opioid crisis is also affecting their children in government care, particularly those in the custody of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“Some of these children are also suffering from addictions and opioid-related deaths,” she said.

“We need this treatment centre as a part of the wrap-around care we endeavour to provide to the clients and families we serve.”

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The facility would be built on Tachick Lake on a property already acquired by the First Nations specifically for that purpose. It would include detox services, and traditional, cultural and Western treatments and aftercare, said the release.

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A “toxic drug supply” combined with the “harms of historical and present-day colonialism” has led to Indigenous peoples dying from toxic drugs at a much higher rate than other B.C. residents, it added.

Last year, the First Nations Health Authority reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp spike in overdose deaths among B.C. First Nations people.

“There are many barriers to treatment for Indigenous people, including underlying systemic racism and experiences of stigma among people who consume alcohol and other substances,” the health authority said in a news release in July 2020. “This points to a need for greater cultural safety and humility in health services.”

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Carrier Sekani Family Services said the healing and treatment centre would fulfill key calls to action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission to integrate culture and spirituality into programming.

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“What we require now is a financial commitment from the federal and provincial governments that claim to prioritize Indigenous needs,” Leween said.

In an interview, Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations said the opioid crisis is one of many “emergencies” stressing the social system that impact Indigenous peoples.

He included wildfires and homelessness in that list.

“We need more of those types of healing centres and spaces to allow those who have addictions to get better and begin that healing journey,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct a typo on the size of the Carrier Sekani First Nations’ traditional territories.

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