Northern First Nations leaders ask Manitoba, federal gov'ts for additional help for mental health, well-being

·3 min read

Northern First Nation leaders are asking the province and the federal government for additional help regarding mental wellness, connectivity and resources for youths.

Some 2,220 of 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccines were distributed across Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc.’s First Nation communities.

While leaders are grateful to receive the vaccination, there is no denying that isolated communities in Northern Manitoba still face many challenges, on top of trying to contain the COVID-19 virus.

“I had a meeting with (provincial Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery) Minister Audrey Gordon (Monday), and we discussed the way to move forward to improve the mental health and well-being of our people,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee on Tuesday in an online conference.

“I convey to her that if COVID-19 had done anything, is that it exposed the lack of mental health resources in our First Nations. Our mental health programming has not been adequate, and it has not been addressed seriously. After COVID-19, we need to enhance mental health wellness in our First Nations.”

Chief Evan Yassie of Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation near Tadoule Lake in Northern Manitoba, whose community received 60 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Jan.19, agreed that dealing with mental health issues in their community has become a big challenge.

Yassie said the community understands that they are one of the furthest isolated communities in Manitoba, so they will continue to lobby for more resources and supplies to better their citizens’ mental well-being.

“We are working with outsiders the best we can to make sure we are all on the same page moving forward. Because we are isolated, we do have our struggles as we do not have the necessary resources that we need,” he said.

Once a month for a week, a counsellor will fly into these remote communities to provide mental health guidance, but First Nation leaders from Northern Manitoba do not believe that it is enough.

Councillor John Clarke of Barren Lands First Nation added that Internet connectivity is also a serious issue in many isolated First Nations as they find it hard to maintain proper communication links with those outside the community.

“Whether it is housing or the Internet, all of us have the same problem. Everybody is aware of it, they just need to get moving to better the communities up north. It is time the governments wake up and do something about it,” said Clarke.

Barren Lands First Nation also received 60 doses of the Moderna vaccine last month. Their next shipment expects to arrive on Feb. 22. Recently, the First Nation had its first active case since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Chief Simon Denechezhe of Northlands Denesuline First Nation is grateful that there has not been any positive COVID-19 cases in the community but would like to see more programs for youths and families.

“We also need better infrastructure for our communities as well as for emergencies. We are lacking in isolation pods and transportation. We need more funds for our people, for a pandemic team and other essential items,” said Denechezhe.

The First Nation received 100 Moderna vaccine doses on Jan. 19. All of the Moderna doses were administered to the Elders and health care workers of those communities.

The second allotment of 5,300 Moderna doses for First Nation communities is scheduled for mid-February and will be provided to citizens who had received their first dose.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun