Treatment centres for addiction issues urgently needed for First Nations in Manitoba

People walking with a sign that says "Stop Meth"

October 30, 2018

Treaty One Territory, Manitoba



Treaty One Territory, MBGrand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is working to ensure that First Nations citizens across Manitoba have access to culturally relevant, land-based addictions treatment.

Earlier this year, citizens from Island Lake First Nations in northern Manitoba walked to Winnipeg to bring awareness to the crisis of abuse and addiction to crystal meth.

“The Government of Canada needs to step up and work with our leadership to address the state of emergencies our leaders have been calling for years regarding drug abuse,” said Grand Chief Dumas. “The abuse of alcohol, solvents, opiates, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine is a serious concern amongst our leaders. This is a critical time for the health of our First Nation citizens.”

First Nations with addiction challenges only have access to two programs funded by the Government of Canada: the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program. First Nations are currently denied the fiscal resources to construct addiction centres in their Nations due to a moratorium unilaterally placed on them.

Substance abuse is more common in northern and remote communities as a result of a history of colonization, isolation, poverty, and language barriers. These First Nations are also more vulnerable to suicide, violence, and poor performance in schools. The numbers of First Nation citizens that are addicted to a variety of substances are staggering and demonstrate a very tragic situation both on and off reserve.

Drug abuse is an ongoing concern for leaders. It is getting worse across the province and is impacting children and newborns. In September 2017, the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council announced that in one year, 60 per cent of children born needed morphine after birth because of the addictions of the mothers.

“We demand that the Department of Indigenous Services Canada lift the moratorium on constructing addiction treatment centres in our First Nations,” stated Grand Chief Dumas. “Our lands offer a healing environment. We need to use a holistic approach to promote a lifestyle free from addictions with a strong sense of pride in culture. First Nations must have access to funding and support to develop, implement, and evaluate their own solutions for addressing addictions issues. The government needs to live up to its promise of working with First Nations on a ‘nation to nation’ basis. The lack of treatment facilities prevents community members from obtaining immediate services for crisis intervention, aftercare, and family support.”

The AMC is taking the lead in developing a First Nations Strategy on Opiates and Methamphetamine to bring to the AMC Chiefs-in-Assembly in November 2018. This strategy is being developed in partnership with other First Nations organizations in Manitoba. The AMC acknowledges Chief Marcel Moody of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation for working on a resolution on this issue that is of utmost importance to all First Nations in Manitoba.