Saskatoon’s FSIN Wellness Conference tackles justice, safety and health issues

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FSIN Wellness Conference
Vice-Chief Heather Bear said this conference is to empower people and to discuss the critical situations First Nations are currently going through with drugs and alcohol – Mar 22, 2023

About 550 people are expected to attend the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Wellness Conference that kicked off at Saskatoon’s TCU Place on Tuesday.

The three-day conference is focusing on the topics of justice, safety and health issues, with several speakers lined up to speak at the event.

Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the commanding officer for the Saskatchewan RCMP, said there’s been a lot of talk around reconciliation and working together, adding that the Saskatchewan RCMP is trying to turn those words into action.

She said there is an Indigenous recruiting unit in the province that is the first of its kind in the country.

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“The reason we have done that is because we have seen the tremendous impact, the positive impact of Indigenous RCMP members, and the difference they are making in the communities in Saskatchewan and across the country,” Blackmore said.

She said they are actively working to address gangs and repeat offenders.

“We have stood up a pilot project in the Battlefords area looking at dealing with gangs, targeting those prolific offenders who are doing so much trauma, and creating so much negativity and violence in our communities. And we are seeing that in our First Nations communities at such a significant level.”

Blackmore said reconciliation is an ongoing effort to work with First Nations and community leaders, and to get that feedback and adjust as needed.

Heather Bear, vice-chief for FSIN, said this conference is to empower people and to discuss the critical situations First Nations are currently going through with drugs and alcohol.

“I think we need to pin it down to a fentanyl and crystal meth crisis. We’re also looking at community safety being another huge issue in our communities,” Bear said.

She said they’ve come together to discuss viable solutions, whether it be programs, laws or legislation.

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“Really it’s about action, and protecting our people.”

Bear said we need to address gaps in mental health, adding there’s a shortage of beds, medical detox and treatment centres.

“Our people are crying for those spaces, but they’re not available.”

She said there are too many overdoses and suicides, and those in turn are causing more grief and pain.

“We can’t do it alone, we need everyone, all hands on deck here,” Bear added.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said their community is still grieving after the stabbings that took place last year.

“We are still healing as a community, and with the families that lost their loved ones. We’ve all lost a brother, sister, a father, an auntie, an uncle,” Burns said.

He said the First Nation is moving forward with creating its own essential services, adding that they’ve visited First Nations in Alberta that have their own.

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Burns said the next step is to motivate the youth to take that training.

The conference runs from March 21 to 23 and has a range of speakers including law enforcement, doctors and essential service providers.

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