A year after a mental health crisis led Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to declare a state of emergency, the Nation is looking for federal support in establishing long-term mental health solutions in the community.
The Nation called a state of emergency on Oct. 10, 2020, due to what Chief Jennifer Bone described as a mental health crisis in the community after multiple deaths by suicides were reported.
Establishing a healing centre and hiring four additional mental health workers has been a key part of addressing the crisis, she said, but little headway has been made since the state of emergency was declared.
“We do the best we can with the funding that’s provided to offer those programs and services to the community,” Bone said. “We’re always having discussions around mental health and supporting our families and healing, addictions, strengthening our family units and how we can do better.”
A healing centre or treatment centre is essential for the well-being of the community, she said, because it is important to establish a dedicated healing space for Dakota people struggling with addictions or mental health.
Bone said the Nation wants to be able to provide space for programs and services to enable community members to receive long-term care plans.
When the state of emergency was declared in October 2020, The Brandon Sun reported a band council resolution cited concerns including “regarding the proliferating effects of suicide within the community,” as well as “compounding and escalating addictions and mental health problems” and “ongoing grief and trauma that has ultimately impacted the community collectively.”
In 2020 the Nation saw approximately six suicides in the community between March and October, including three within one week, Bone told the Sun in October 2020.
The band council resolution and a corresponding message posted to Sioux Valley’s website cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a contributing factor to the crisis.
“Pandemic safeguards are hindering the community’s ability to conduct traditional and cultural grief and trauma practices for the health and safety of the community,” said the resolution.
Bone said the crisis remains ongoing in Sioux Valley and it can be challenging gauging how people are feeling, especially with the fluctuation of COVID-19 public health measures. She is grateful that 2021 saw more opportunities for community members to visit, connect and take part in traditional ceremonies and events.
“We were able to host a small community pow-wow and some events where we were able to visit and not be on lockdown,” Bone said. “People were able to enjoy themselves and be with friends and family, those are always good things and good supports to have in place.”
It is difficult to say when the state of emergency will come to an end, as the mental health piece remains a focus for Chief and Council.
Prior to declaring the state of emergency, $141,000 had been committed to supporting mental health in the Nation. Bone reached out to Health Canada for additional aid to address the crisis but little headway was made.
Health Canada referred Sioux Valley to Manitoba Keeewatinowi Okimakanak, the non-profits crisis unit provided support to Sioux Valley until March 2021 and Bone said they can still utilize their services when needed.
“We built a relationship with them and we can reach out to them and they’ll come out to support in the community for a number of days to support in whatever area they are requested,” Bone said.
Sioux Valley also hired an additional mental health worker in March.
Federal support for these initiatives remains imperative because the community continues to work towards healing from the trauma from residential schools, Bone said.
She referred to the 94 calls to action listed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the importance of acting on those related to health, mental health, well-being and healing.
She added the Nation wants to see initiatives established that are Indigenous-led because community members know what is best for themselves and the community.
“That’s for us to decide what’s best for healing and for mental health,” Bone said.
In an email statement provided to the Sun, Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Megan MacLean said they are continuing to work closely with leadership in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Indigenous partners to access and augment mental health resources for the community.
MacLean added in November 2020 the department provided additional funding of $141,818 to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation for mental wellness programming as part of the COVID-19 response.
“Regarding a healing lodge proposal for the community, regional officials are available to work with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to determine potential funding for a business proposal, and any proposal for a healing lodge would be carefully reviewed,” she said. “In addition, the department is working with several communities and First Nation organizations to examine a number of options to support mental wellness and treatment for Indigenous members.”
The Government of Canada recognizes the seriousness and scope of the health and mental health challenges First Nations face, MacLean said, including those who die by suicide. Work is underway with Indigenous partners to advance Indigenous-led approaches to mental wellness, she added.
Indigenous Services Canada invests more than $580 annually to address the mental wellness needs of First Nations helping provide services that include community-led suicide prevention projects, community-based mental wellness teams, emotional and cultural support services for residential school and day school survivors and their families and a network of 45 substance use treatment centres.
“While the issues of mental wellness and suicide are complex, we know that part of improving mental wellness in First Nations and Inuit communities means providing better access to effective, sustainable and culturally appropriate services. We are committed to working together with First Nations and Inuit leadership to address critical needs and to develop long-term solutions, such as enhanced approaches to social services for families and youth.”
The Hope for Wellness Help Line provides immediate, culturally competent, crisis intervention counselling support for all Indigenous peoples, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by phone and online chat (1-855-242-3310 or hopeforwellness.ca).
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170), or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or by texting CONNECT to 686868
The Canada Suicide Prevention Service is also available at 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or at crisisservicescanada.ca).
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun