By Chris Marchand
Members from area Treaty Three First Nations communities met in Dryden last week to discuss youth mental health.
Harmony Rice, health policy analyst for Grand Council Treaty Three says the purpose of the two-day meeting was to bring together members of the health, social services, education and justice fields to talk about improving support systems for youth in Treaty Three First Nations.
The subject is a timely one as nationwide attention has recently been focused on the region’s high suicide rate and related issues among First Nations teens.
“Some of the issues raised as priority in Treaty Three First Nations are a prescription drug abuse epidemic,” said Rice. “As well as working with youth in the justice system, finding proper supports and services in the Dryden-Fort Frances and Kenora region. The systems are already strained with funding issues in the mainstream and we’re having that discussion as well — around what services need to be improved or strengthened, what kinds of shifts need to occur at the community level?”
Rice says service levels vary significantly between communities and that part of the event was also to get a good overall picture of what’s available to Treaty Three youth in the region.
“Every community is different,” said Rice. “We’re looking at how the community support teams are structured — is every area involved and engaged and what are their links to mainstream services outside. We’re hearing that there are huge disparities between some of the programs operated on First Nations versus the mainstream equivalent of that program. At the community level there’s often a lack of infrastructure.”
Rice says Grand Council Treaty Three’s 34-member health council, represented by members of the various communities as well as the regional First Nations health initiatives have decided to govern how health systems work in Treaty Three.
“The goal is to work together to improve the systems, to create a platform to share information and to actually start planning from a ‘nation’ point-of-view,” said Rice. “What is happening with the health council is trailblazing in some sense, we’re pursuing a direct relationship with all governments.”
The event was also a chance to distribute thousands of books and learning materials to Treaty Three First Nations courtesy of Scholastic Canada, Save the Children Foundation and Grand Council Treaty Three.