Re­serve in cri­sis gets new men­tal health work­ers

Hoskins an­nounces fund­ing for re­mote Pikangikum First Na­tion as it strug­gles with wave of sui­cides

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KRISTY KIRKUP

On­tario Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins is an­nounc­ing fund­ing for 20 full-time men­tal­health work­ers for Pikangikum First Na­tion — a re­mote com­mu­nity strug­gling with a sui­cide cri­sis and press­ing men­tal-health needs from about 380 peo­ple seek­ing coun­selling.

The men­tal-health work­ers will be go­ing to the re­serve, lo­cated near the On­tario and Man­i­toba bor­der, im­me­di­ately at a cost of about $1.6 mil­lion, Hoskins said.

“This can’t be an is­sue of ju­ris­dic­tion,” Hoskins said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“We heard di­rectly from the chief … as well as oth­ers that the sit­u­a­tion on the ground in Pikangikum, just how grave it is and the need for trauma coun­selling as well as broader men­tal-health sup­ports for chil­dren and youth at risk.”

There are eight men­tal-health work­ers on the ground at the mo­ment jointly funded by the prov­ince and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, he said.

Pikangikum has had a long­stand­ing bat­tle with sui­cide; at least four young peo­ple have taken their lives in the re­mote com­mu­nity re­cently.

On­tario is also an­nounc­ing what it calls a new Indige­nous youth and com­mu­nity well­ness sec­re­tariat de­signed to co-or­di­nate and speed up gov­ern­ment ef­forts while it also works with Indige­nous part­ners and Ot­tawa, Hoskins said.

“It will be­come, es­sen­tially, a on­estop shop for … our Indige­nous part­ners if a re­sponse is re­quired or if there is a cir­cum­stance that re­quires an ur­gent re­sponse,” he said.

“We ex­pect next week it will start … It will be a full-time sec­re­tariat to al­most fast-track key files whether it is in health or ed­u­ca­tion.”

Hoskins’ an­nounce­ments come as he pre­pares to meet Mon­day in Ot­tawa with fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Jane Philpott and Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion Grand Chief Alvin Fid­dler — the head of an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing 49 com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern On­tario.

The group is ex­pected to sign a char­ter of prin­ci­ples aim­ing to trans­form the health-care sys­tem for First Na­tions.

Philpott and Hoskins have both agreed pro­found change will be re­quired to end the sui­cide cri­sis — al­though Indige­nous health ex­perts want to see con­crete com­mit­ments out of Mon­day’s meet­ing, in­clud­ing more con­trol at the level of First Na­tions.

Dr. Michael Kir­lew, a physi­cian based in Sioux Look­out, Ont., be­lieves the Indige­nous youth sui­cide cri­sis in north­ern On­tario and else­where will not be ad­dressed un­less there is a fun­da­men­tal re­think of the way care is de­liv­ered.

“The health-care sys­tem … First Na­tions peo­ple re­ceive is not equal,” he said, not­ing Canada has grown ac­cus­tomed to wit­ness­ing this in­jus­tice.

“It is in­fe­rior … It is not eq­ui­table. The chil­dren, whether they are in Pikangikum, Sum­mer Beaver, Wapekeka, they do not have ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices they need, pe­riod.”

Indige­nous health has been fo­cused on mea­sur­ing the num­ber of dol­lars spent as op­posed to health out­comes, added Dr. Alika La­fontaine, the past pres­i­dent of the Indige­nous Physi­cians As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada. That needs to change, he said. “When you’re talk­ing about health trans­for­ma­tion, what you’re re­ally look­ing at is chang­ing the in­tent of the sys­tem to achieve a dif­fer­ent out­come,” he said.

“In Indige­nous health, what you’re try­ing to do is create an out­come that’s dif­fer­ent than our colo­nial out­come which was ex­tin­guish­ing the rights of Indige­nous peo­ple through land and re­sources.”

Bob Nault, a Lib­eral MP who rep­re­sents an On­tario rid­ing that en­com­passes re­serves in­clud­ing Pikangikum, agrees the health-care sys­tem as it stands now is not ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing sus­tain­able, longterm re­sults.

He said he has been wit­ness­ing the same prob­lem for the past 30 years, in­clud­ing as a for­mer Indige­nous af­fairs min­is­ter un­der for­mer prime min­is­ter Jean Chré­tien.

“We can’t keep do­ing the same thing over and over again and put a lit­tle Band-Aid on it and say ‘we’re do­ing it dif­fer­ently,’” he said. “We are not do­ing it dif­fer­ently so far, that I’ve seen.”


A cross in her fam­ily’s back­yard marks the grave of a 15-year-old girl who killed her­self at Pikangikum First Na­tion, a north­ern On­tario re­serve that has one of the high­est sui­cide rates in the world.

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