The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations has declared a State of Emergency requesting immediate mobilization, support, and additional funding from all levels of government to address the opioid crisis affecting its nations.
“Families, friends, and loved ones are being lost to this devastating crisis,” said Grand Chief Leonard Standingontheroad, in a statement following the confederacy’s annual general meeting.
“If harm reduction isn’t available, our people will die. The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations is asking the federal government to intervene and offer more effective, flexible and long-lasting support.”
The Indigenous Health Equity Fund, announced in February, promised $2 billion in federal funding over 10 years — $200 million annually — but the province did not make First Nations aware of the funding nor provide First Nations with the funding, said the confederacy which includes Samson Cree, O’Chiese, Montana, Ermineskin and Sunchild First Nations and Louis Bull Tribe in Central Alberta.
The confederacy said statistics show:
• The rise in mortality rates due to opioid toxicity is seven times higher among Indigenous peoples in Alberta, and 50 per cent are between the ages of 20 and 39.
• Death rates due to opioid poisoning have spiked since the provincial government closed safe consumption sites.
• Recovery treatment beds promised to First Nations are in most cases non-existent or inaccessible.
• The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy has grown over the past seven years – leading to an 18.2 years discrepancy.
Treaty No. 6 guarantees healthcare through the medicine chest clause which dictates that the federal government has an obligation to provide healthcare on an ongoing basis.
The confederacy urged all levels of government to engage in meaningful consultation and collaboration with Treaty No. 6 Chiefs and communities, as well as a commitment to long-term funding for culturally appropriate healthcare services, including mental health support, addiction treatment programs, and harm reduction initiatives.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Dan Williams said the province is continuing to strengthen its partnerships with Treaty 6 by committing to build and fully fund a recovery community in direct partnership with Enoch Cree Nation.
“Across Alberta we’ve announced the construction and funding of three more recovery communities in direct partnership with Tsuut’ina Nation, Siksika Nation, and Kainai Nation. These are historic actions by the Government of Alberta that are outside of our traditional jurisdiction but are essential to moving forward in partnership with First Nations,” said Williams in a statement.
The province is also building a 100-bed facility in Gunn to support individuals with their pursuit of recovery in the Edmonton area.
Red Deer’s 75-bed Recovery Community is now operational and has been accepting clients since mid-May. Its operator is working with local First Nations to ensure cultural safety of services and support, and every recovery community will incorporate Indigenous treatment and healing.
Alberta’s government also provides more than $447,000 in annual funding for the Bonnyville Indian Metis Rehab Centre along with more than $2 million in annual funding to Poundmaker’s Lodge to support more than 660 spaces every year.
“I agree with the Confederacy that it is time for the federal government to step up and provide more support to Nations facing addiction as they have been absent in this conversation for far too long. The federal government has failed to support First Nations to address addiction, and Alberta has been left to address the issues resulting from their failures,” Williams said.