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North Island First Nations plead for help tackling mental health crisis

Kwakiutl, Quatsino, GNFN asking for outreach workers and support, premier says ‘lives on the line’
NDP Premier David Eby speaks to the media on Monday, March 4. (Youtube screenshot)

Two more North Island First Nations have reached out to authorities with a plea for help in the wake of a state of emergency declared last week by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations.

The 1,100-member Port Hardy-area GNFN made the declaration Thursday after 11 deaths in two months, most of them drug- and alcohol-related.

This week, the Kwakiutl, and Quatsino First Nations joined them in an appeal to the First Nations Health Authority and Island Health “to determine what supports are needed in response to the current mental health crisis we are experiencing in our communities,” and provide those supports.

The health directors of each nation noted in a media release that they have been looking at how “we can close the gaps for short-term crisis response needs and how we can bring further preventative supports and programming to our communities to address mental health and substance misuse challenges.”

They have asked Island Health for:

  • Funding for each community to have an outreach worker on call during evenings, overnight and on weekends for the next 30 days;
  • An Island Health outreach worker to support community outreach workers when needed during that period;
  • Additional Island Health capacity to support mental health of healthcare workers during this crisis.

With the FNHA’s support and lead, the nations want a new tri-nation coordinator role created.

“This coordinator will work to coordinate the crisis response on the ground and additional preventative programming for mental health, including appropriate cultural programming. If this request is unsuccessful it will be directed to Island Health for consideration.”

The directors added they are also exploring the ability to create a “safe overnight crisis supports space downtown for those without phones to access supports overnight.”

At a press conference on Monday (March 4), B.C. Premier David Eby was asked about the North Island’s health-care crisis in general and about the GNFN state of emergency directly.

“This nation is struggling with a mental health and addiction crisis,” sais Eby. “They’ve asked for some very specific resources from Island Health, which Island Health is looking at.”

Eby added they’ve partnered with the FNHA to deliver additional care in this part of Vancouver Island.

“It’s obviously critically important, lives are on the line, and [we’re] finding ways for people to connect with that care that’s going to keep them alive and get them into treatment so they can rebuild their lives.”