SUDBURY -- Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, a First Nation near Greater Sudbury, has declared a state of emergency because of the mental health and addictions crisis the community is currently experiencing.

"Atikameksheng, like so many other First Nations, were already strained by mental health and addiction issues in the community," the community said in a news release Friday. "However, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these issues to a point where the current programs and services are grossly inadequate. As a result, this is drastically impacting the health of its members."

The State of Emergency is being handled by the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Emergency Response Team and has assigned the director of health and community wellness, Carmen Wabegijig-Nootchtai, as the lead on the state of emergency.

“Over the past year, we have seen an increase in opioid-related incidences and deaths, alcohol-related incidences, homelessness and not to mention the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has put our members at risk for their health and well-being,” Wabegijig-Nootchtai said in the release.

Inadequate funding

Inadequately funded programs and services, the impacts of the crisis and the COVID-19 state of emergency is overwhelming for the health and social services staff and the community in general, she said.

The Emergency Response Team is advocating for increased services and funding to address these critical issues. Building capacity in the community is key and applying additional resources to gaps in programs and services are needed to address the long outstanding service inequities in relation to mental health and wellness programs.

“We have done our best to address the issues with the funding that is made available, but the fact is that the restrictions placed on the use of the funding, and the amount of funding in general, is not enough to meet the needs of our members," Gimaa Craig Nootchtai said in the release.

"We need more resources to implement land-based healing programs that are offered in our community that are focused on restoring and preserving our language, our culture, and our traditions, which would work in tandem with the western-based treatment options. We also need the resources to build the infrastructure to deliver those land-based programs.”

Emergency Response Team

The Emergency Response Team has met and will continue to meet with federal and provincial government officials, political tribal organizations, local and regional partners, and Anishnawbek Nation leaders to address these inadequacies in health and social funding and lack of supports provided to our Nation.

"The team hopes that all agencies will collaborate in a way that will not only benefit Atikameksheng, but will benefit its sister nations and its neighbours such as the City of Greater Sudbury," the release said.