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‘Our people are dying’: Manitoba First Nation declares state of emergency

March 7, 2023

3 people have died in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation in the past 2 weeks

O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation is a community of just over 1,000 people at South Indian Lake, about 130 kilometres northwest of Thompson. (O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation)

CBC News: A remote northern Manitoba First Nation has declared a state of emergency following the deaths of three people in the community over the past two weeks.

“We’ve seen the hurt and pain suffered by our First Nation and we can’t wait any longer. We are dealing with emergencies and tragedy on a daily basis here it seems,” said Chief Shirley Ducharme of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, a community of just over 1,000 people at South Indian Lake, about 130 kilometres northwest of Thompson. “Our people are dying and as leadership, we have to do something.”

She is calling for the federal and provincial governments to provide immediate help in the form of crisis supports for people battling trauma, addiction and mental health issues. “As we try to navigate what the problems are … we try and gather our thoughts together and support our members. Everybody is impacted,” Ducharme said.

She is also urging the province to limit the hours of operation for the local ferry to control the flow of alcohol entering the community.

Close up of a woman's face. She has long white hair and wears glasses.
O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation Chief Shirley Ducharme wants a healing centre built in her community so people can get help closer to home. It would also provide ongoing supports, so they don’t fall back into harmful cycles, she said. (Zoom)

People have turned to drugs and alcohol to relieve their pain during the crisis, but the substance abuse just creates a domino effect and causes more problems in the community, she said. “We’ve lost community members and we now see the escalation and violence.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak, a political advocacy organization that represents 26 First Nations in the province’s north, has deployed a mobile crisis response team to assist O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation. “They work directly with families who have experienced trauma and will be a part of a response that includes other entities,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement.

“We are also going to assist our member First Nation with their call for more housing by advocating on their behalf federally and asking the province to limit the hours of their ferry to control the flow of alcohol into their community.”

Ducharme also wants a healing centre built in her community, so people can get help closer to home “There is not enough supports and resources available in our community for our community members to heal,” she said.

They travel to larger centres for care, but the wait can be anywhere from six months to a year to get in and “when they come back from the treatment centre, they fall back into the cycle again, because there is nothing here for them as supports to continue with the ongoing healing that they need,” Ducharme said.

She has reached out to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to request its help in designing, developing and implementing a community action plan to address the immediate and long-term needs of the community. “It’s going to be a longtime journey that we all need for this whole community,” Ducharme said.


Darren Bernhardt, Reporter

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.