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FSIN conference aims to address addiction, mental health issues

Former NHL player Reggie Leach and Chief Clarence Louie are some of the keynote speakers.

SASKATOON — The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has launched a three-day Community Wellness Conference to address drug addiction and mental health issues in Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan.

The conference will focus on alcoholism, substance addiction, particularly methamphetamine, and the opioid crisis.

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said that their member First Nations had requested help in dealing with the epidemic of crystal meth and opioids in their communities.

“We have a lot of [healthcare] technicians and justice committee members at the First Nations level. Their input addresses the violence and harms inflicted on the reserves. Their input is what is going to drive this,” said Cameron. 

“It will take funding and that is part of this conference. The lobbying and advocating for the federal and provincial governments to invest more in reserve tribal police, community safety officers and peacekeepers.” 

He added that the justice committee would also be brainstorming to come up with ideas on what would work in keeping their communities safe to prevent a similar incident that happened in September last year at the James Smith Cree Nation. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after the incident, committed more than $40 million in federal funding to the James Smith Cree Nation to help them build a wellness centre and develop programs that would give their members access to mental health and addiction programs. 

The conference aims to develop solutions to improve justice, safety, and other health issues, including funding and lobbying the federal and provincial governments to invest more in reserve tribal police, community safety officers, and peacekeepers.

First Vice Chief David Pratt said they would use the report that would come up after the conference as a tool to address the issues that affect First Nations communities.

“Whatever the report will be [the feedback from the frontline workers, health director and elders], over the next three days will give us the roadmap for moving forward. They will give us a clear direction on addressing these issues,” said Pratt. 

“We move forward on implementing that and of course, it begins with funding. We begin lobbying and getting the mandate if we don’t have them from the chiefs. Moving forward and getting funding, whether it is through the federal or provincial government.” 

Zagime Anishinabek Chief Lynn Acoose emphasized the need for wellness centres and healing lodges for people dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.

“There are policymakers from different levels of government here and they will be listening to what our people have to say. Our justice committee is here, so our voice will be heard as a community at this conference. “ We must have these large gatherings for everyone to come together,” said Acoose. 

“There’s a lack of detox beds in our areas, in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. There’s a lack of good treatment models out there. [The current model] is old and has not kept pace with the needs of the people, especially Indigenous people. We need more culturally appropriate treatment facilities as well as detox beds.”