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Mikisew Cree First Nation declares state of local emergency following multiple suicides

April 25, 2023

‘We can feel the grief amongst the people, the hurt,’ says Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro

An aerial view of the community of Fort Chipewyan.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation says suicides and suicide attempts have been increasing in the remote community of Fort Chipewyan, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Pres)

CBC News: A First Nation in northern Alberta has declared a state of local emergency following a string of suicide and suicide attempts among community members.  The Mikisew Cree First Nation says immediate medical intervention is needed in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., to address a mounting mental health crisis among members.

Suicides and suicide attempts have been increasing in the remote community accessible only by plane, boat or ice road, about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, the MCFN said in a statement Tuesday. 

Community leaders fear that if additional mental health resources don’t arrive soon, the trend will have a tragic ripple effect among members. “Leadership is also gravely concerned about the imminent potential of suicidal clusters, suicidal ideations, and suicidal planning among our youth,” the statement reads. “Our nation urgently needs mental health support in our community to address the immediate and short-term crisis and sustained funding for mental health and addictions in the long term, focusing on health promotion, prevention and reclaiming cultural identity.” 

The state of local emergency was declared Monday following a vote by the chief and council.

Raw: Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro

WATCH Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro discusses the situation in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

In a video posted to social media, Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said the community has called on the federal and provincial governments to provide immediate support and long-term, sustainable funding for community mental health supports.

To view the above video, click on the following ink:

In a video posted to social media, Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said the community has called on the federal and provincial governments, including Alberta Health Services and Indigenous Services Canada, to provide immediate support and long-term, sustainable funding for community mental health supports. 

Rick Wilson, Alberta’s minister of Indigenous relations, said he is “deeply concerned” by the situation. “One death to suicide is too many,” Wilson said in a statement. “I am committed to working with my government colleagues, including at the federal level, to understand what we can do to support Mikisew Cree First Nation and all Indigenous communities impacted by the loss of life due to suicide.”

CBC News has requested comment from the federal government. Alberta Health Services declined to comment. 

The community is also calling for a mental health crisis response team to be immediately dispatched to the community, Tuccaro said.  He did not provide an exact number but said multiple suicides have been reported.  He said outside support is needed to end a pattern of self-destructive behaviour in the community. “We can feel the grief amongst the people, the hurt,” he said.

“As the chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, I too get these calls about our membership wanting to hurt themselves. It’s something that I take near and dear to my heart.

Tuccaro said the band and council can no longer turn a blind eye to the crisis unfolding in the community. “Today, there is no more words,” he said. “Today is a day of action. We can not stand by anymore and pretend that this is not a real issue.”

In the video, Tuccaro urged anyone who is struggling to get help. He also shared a warning, urging parents to monitor their children’s social media activity. Some sites are promoting risky behaviour among teenagers in the community, he said.  “Please, speak to your children,” he said. 

Co-ordinating response

Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said  ACFN plans to issue its own declaration and support a coordinated response to the suicide crisis in a community that also home for many ACFN members.

He said the two bands should work together to help “get a grip” on the crisis.  “It’s affecting our young people our most,” Adam said in an interview from Fort Chipewyan Tuesday. “That’s a big problem here in the community. “But they’re not the only ones. It’s people in general that are having all these issues.” Adam said the community is in the throes of a mental health crisis, exasperated by addiction to opioids and other drugs. People in the community who are suffering from depression often turn to drugs, leading to social disorder within the remote hamlet. 

Mental health supports are important but the community must also focus on eliminating the drug trade, Adam said. “These drug dealers need to be dealt with,” Adam said. “Some of them are not from the community and they’re plaguing our community, disrupting everything.”

The Mikisew Cree First Nation takes a zero-tolerance approach to manufacturing, selling or possessing illegal drugs on the First Nation. 

In February, the band issued a bylaw authorizing Wood Buffalo RCMP to search homes on reserve lands or buildings owned by the First Nation in an attempt to eliminate the drug trade. The band warned that offenders could be banned from the reserve or properties owned by the nation. “It’s time we banded together and deal with the issue,” Adam said. “If not, this crisis is going to keep on going.” 

Suicide rates have consistently been shown to be higher among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit in Canada than the rate among non-Indigenous people. According to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada, the suicide rate among First Nations people in Canada was three times higher than the rate among non-Indigenous people. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:


Wallis Snowdon, Reporter

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at