Federal government announces new funding for mental wellness in N. Sask.

By Bryan Eneas
April 19, 2017 - 5:00pm

More supports are coming to the communities affected by last year's Northern Saskatchewan suicide crisis.

After a series of suicides rocked the communities of La Ronge, Stanley Mission and Deschambault Lake in October of last year, the federal government has announced additional funding for mental wellness teams in the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN).

A total $1.2 million will be invested in the two bands to create two new mental wellness teams, and to build capacity and training to ensure services are provided in a culturally safe manner according to a release from the government of Canada.

“This is part of a larger commitment we have made to Indigenous communities,” Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said. “We must work collectively to improve the social determinance of health that deeply affect the quality of life of people in First Nations communities.”

After the suicides in October, mental wellness teams were deployed to the communities. In the last year, the government has doubled mental wellness teams on the ground in Saskatchewan to a total of 10.

Mental wellness teams are a community-driven initiative, and have “proven successful in increasing access to culturally safe mental health, addictions services and supports in First Nations communities,” according to the government statement.

LLRIB Chief Tammy Cook-Searson is pleased to receive this funding, but she said the trauma runs deep.

“We know that there is much more work to be done,” Cook-Searson said. “As we work on our larger mental health strategy... we look forward to continuing our discussions with the federal government and also provincial government to enhance our plans for a holistic wellness centre.”

PBCN Chief Peter A Beatty welcomed the announcement and said the funding is a positive step towards acknowledging the needs of Indigenous communities, but more needs to be done.

“I reiterate something one of the new councillors said. I hope in 10 to 15 or 20 years we're not at the same table talking about the same problem,” Beatty said. “I think this new funding is something that will help us alleviate some of those things that are plaguing us today.”

Beatty said he supports the idea of incorporating traditional knowledge from elders and community members.

“That is one component that is missing right now, is that traditional approach to healing, healing on the land, was the phrase being used around the table this morning,” he said.

He said when he was growing up he learned the traditional ways of living, and he didn't hear of mental health issues or suicide attempts in the late 70s and early 80s.

“It's more prevalent today than it was before,” Beatty said. “I think this will go a long ways to addressing that problem.”

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron was on hand for the funding announcement. He said having Philpott visit was a step towards the Nation-to-Nation governance ideals being promoted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It's a huge investment for mental wellness and for our youth,” Cameron said. “Investing in our youth and mental wellness and improving the quality of lives goes a long ways and it's a really good start.”


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