Cheslatta Carrier Nation chief Corinna Leween speaks to the annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum, Jan. 27, 2021. Leween is president of Carrier Sekani Family Services, a delegated agency of the B.C. government serving northern B.C. communities. (B.C. Natural Resources Forum)

Cheslatta Carrier Nation chief Corinna Leween speaks to the annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum, Jan. 27, 2021. Leween is president of Carrier Sekani Family Services, a delegated agency of the B.C. government serving northern B.C. communities. (B.C. Natural Resources Forum)

Carrier and Sekani chiefs call state of emergency due to opioid crisis

Eleven Nation chiefs and Carrier Sekani Family Services have called on the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action to combat the crisis

First Nations chiefs in northern British Columbia have declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Eleven Nation chiefs of Carrier and Sekani Nations, along with the Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS), have called upon the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action to address the crisis, according to a statement released by CSFS.

The number of Indigenous people dying of overdose deaths in B.C.’s northern interior region is at “alarming rates of over-representation,” a press release states. The CSFS is seeking government funds to build and operate a healing and treatment centre to combat the crisis.

Nation chiefs have long called for a treatment and healing centre, though a recent decision from the provincial Agriculture Land Commission rejected their proposal on ALR land at the existing Tachick Lake Resort near Vanderhoof.

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

It also said mental health issues and addiction, as well as the impacts of residential schools, continue to affect the families served by the CSFS.

Chief and CSFS board president Corrina Leween said over the past two weeks, the communities lost three more people to overdose. She added CSFS is ready to increase capacity and the services they offer for addictions and recovery.

“We also know that this crisis is affecting Indigenous children in care, particularly those in the care of the MCFD (Ministry of Children and Family Development), and that some of these children are also suffering from addictions and opioid-related deaths,” Leween said in the press release. “We need this treatment centre as a part of the wrap-around care we endeavour to provide clients and families we serve.”

A treatment centre, noted the chiefs, must be included in any long-term solution, adding they believe it meets a number of the provisions from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.

The centre, they said, will assist people across B.C. The CSFS continues to engage with federal and provincial governments, as well as the First Nations Health Authority to seek support in developing the treatment and healing centre, which requires capital commitment.