State of emergency to remain in place on Saugeen until overdose rates stabilize

SAUGEEN – The Ogimaa (Chief) of Saugeen, Conrad Ritchie, updated community members on Dec. 16 regarding the recent declaration putting the small community into a state of emergency.

“The intention of the declaration of the state of emergency is to create broad community awareness related to the ongoing drug epidemic which introduces criminality, violence and contributes to the tragic loss of lives,” Ritchie said in a statement.

The recent rise in opioid-related deaths prompted extreme action as the community struggles to solve this deadly problem.

The newly formed Community Safety Task Force held its first meeting on Dec. 14 and has released a call for expressions of interest to community members who wish to become involved.

Currently, they are seeking six elders, youth, and adults from the community to join the task force to provide input as they move forward with an action plan to combat the opioid crisis in their territory.

In his video update to the community, Ritchie said, “I also wanted to inform you that our task force is also working with provincial and federal ministries and lobbying for additional funds and resources for our community. From that we hope to coincide with the strategy that’s being developed with the team.”

The Ogimaa said they would continue to provide timely updates and for the community to keep an eye on the territory’s website, where more in-depth information will be provided.

“With that in mind, I ask that you stay safe, keep your families close and be kind to each other,” Ritchie said.

The press release outlined several risk factors and barriers to finding solutions to provide a safe and welcoming community free of drugs, gangs, and violence:

- lack of funding for additional resources to assist with enforcement and/or deterrence;

- lack of funding to develop a sustainable community critical incident response team model (to provide frontline and community debriefing);

- lack of funding to recruit registered social workers and traditional healers to work with community members and families in response to the unnecessary loss of lives, the result of a continued supply of drugs and weapons into the community;

- lack of attainable housing that has many community members experiencing real and chronic homelessness – further increasing drug use, theft, and food insecurity;

- lack of recognition of Nation laws that contribute to the safety and well-being of the community;

- lack of funding to advance a land-based treatment facility that is Indigenous based and augmented with western treatment modalities;

- lack of youth and traditional programs; and

- lack of trauma-informed practices.

The release provided suggestions for moving forward to help build community and organizational capacity, including training community members on naloxone and Safe Harm Reduction equipment; critical incident debriefing training and trauma-informed care for SFN personnel; Supportive Outreach Service (SOS), and initiating exploratory discussions with Emergency Management Ontario and the OPP liaisons.

“The OPP, a collaborating partner on the task force, has confirmed that they have intercepted a shipment of fentanyl that was destined to arrive in Saugeen First Nations,” the release stated. “The quantity seized is equivalent to 1,000 doses of fentanyl.”

The next update form SFN will be on Dec. 23.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times