Losing eight community members so far in 2021 because of the drug, alcohol and opioid crisis has prompted Ulkatcho First Nation (UFN) west of Williams Lake to declare a state of emergency.
UFN Chief Lynda Price said they lost a band member as recently as Wednesday, Oct. 27.
“We are going through the grieving process again and it’s really heart-breaking for me to see another loss in our community,” she told Black Press Media Friday, Oct. 29.
“Our band is located in a very rural and remote area in the wilderness and it is really difficult for us to find mental health clinicians in our community.”
Price said she wants to bring healing to UFN and hopes there will be no more deaths caused by addictions.
A mental health clinician has been recently hired, but Ulkatcho was without one for two years and it is very difficult for band members to get access to proper support services, she added.
“You have to have a clinically trained professional to deal with the issues that we are facing. For too many years we haven’t had that resource in our community.”
Chief, council and administration have created a team which will be led by a drug, alcohol and opioid crisis emergency health care team leader that will be hired, she noted.
Historically there was an Indian Residential School located in the community of Nagwuntl’oo (Anahim Lake) which was operated by the Catholic Church and funded by the federal government.
Records of the school are available through the University of British Columbia Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.
Many children suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse which caused mental health issues to arise in many families, and Price said the struggle has been inter-generational.
“Alcohol and drug addiction has been ongoing for several years. I’m appalled nothing has been done about it.”
A total of 11 people died in the community in 2015, five in 2016, nine in 2017, seven in 2018, nine in 2019 and five in 2020.
There are 1,100 band members and about 50 per cent of them live in the community.
“It’s time for people to step up and provide the services,” Price said. “I’m tired of everything being ignored. Things are being blamed on COVID, but it’s not COVID. This has been going on for several years before COVID.”
Price said UFN wants a wellness centre for the community because sending people away for detox is not a good remedy.
When she was elected as chief she held an information session with the whole community — First Nation and non-First Nation people — on the importance of not self-detoxing.
“Some of our members were trying to self-detox and were going into seizures. We’ve had a few members die of seizures. We don’t want that. We want to support our people and do it the right way.”
A press release from UFN noted people who are passing away in the community are younger and middle-aged.
“The health conditions of UFN members have been deteriorating over several years due to addictions to drugs and alcohol which has led to vital organ failure in many,” stated the release.
In calling the state of emergency, UFN hopes to gain the attention of the First Nations Health Authority, Indigenous Services Canada and B.C.’s Ministry of Health.
“I have called out for help, but we have not received anything,” Prices said. “It’s one of those things that keeps getting ignored and I decided it’s time to take this next step and set up a meaningful dialogue to bring remedies into our community to provide support to members that are struggling.”