Current Problems

Health (18-24)

Prevention measures, not crisis management needed to address emergency situation in Bigstone Cree Nation

January 24, 2024

Bigstone Cree Nation called on ministries to address “mental health, policing, gangs, rising crime rates, poverty, food security, child and family-related issues, homelessness and the housing crisis that we face.” — Bigstone Cree Nation Chief Andy Alook

A man wearing a feathered headdress sits at a table and is flanked by others.

Chief Andy Alook (centre) is pictured with some of the councillors from Bigstone Cree Nation. Armed with official direction to ministers Dan Williams (Mental Health and Addictions) and Adriana LaGrange (Health), Bigstone Cree Nation Chief Andy Alook said his Nation had exhausted all its own resources and was “calling on the provincial government and its ministries to fulfill the mandate letters from (Alberta) Premier Danielle Smith.”

On Jan. 8, Bigstone Cree Nation declared a state of local emergency for the First Nation in northeastern Alberta saying its members were no longer safe because of the rise in serious and violent crimes, arsons, assaults, break and enters, gang activity, and increased illegal drug use and a mental health crisis.

“What we need to do is keep our people alive,” said Alook in a press conference this morning at the Edmonton Marriott at Enoch Cree Nation. He was accompanied by nine of 10 councillors. “We need to find a path forward to deal with the overarching crises immediately,” he said.

The state of local emergency was declared because of the “social issues” that have resulted from mental health and addictions, which has led to loss of life and impacted everyone on the Nation, including the council.

Alook read aloud each minister’s four-page mandate letter.

Williams’ letter, amongst other instructions, called on him to work “in partnership with the Minister of Indigenous Relations, support Indigenous peoples in Alberta by strengthening a comprehensive continuum of mental health and addiction services, ensuring service provision is not disrupted by jurisdictional disputes.”

LaGrange’s letter, in part, instructed her to “address rural health challenges” and develop “a series of reforms to the health care system that enhance local decision-making authority (and) improve health care services for all Albertans.”

Alook called on Williams’ and LaGrange’s departments, along with Indigenous Relations, Public Safety and Emergency Services, and Municipal Affairs, to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by “addressing the social issues of mental health, policing, gangs, rising crime rates, poverty, food security, child and family-related issues, homelessness and the housing crisis that we face.”

Alook also pointed out that loss of life has been experienced in Edmonton. “Supports in these urban centres, although (members) might reach out to the nation, we are currently limited with the resources that we’re able to provide our nation members, regardless if they’re living in smaller towns, urban cities or anywhere across Canada,” said Alook.

With 10,000 members, Bigstone Cree is the largest First Nation in Treaty 8, with members living from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island.

Underfunding continues to be an issue, he said. “We delivered programs and services for decades within a system that has limited funding, resources, capacity and infrastructure. The federal policies and programs need to change in order for Bigstone Cree Nation to fully address the crisis in our nation’s communities,” he said.

“We have a Treaty right to health which must be respected and honoured by all levels of government.”

Alook also pointed to the need for better policing. While Bigstone Cree Nation has a tripartite agreement with the Wabasca RCMP detachment for dedicated police officers, a similar tripartite agreement does not exist with the Athabasca RCMP for the southern part of the Nation. Discussions are occurring with the Athabasca RCMP.

Alook says the Nation has discussed policing models with Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, which has included First Nations policing.

“Bigstone Cree Nation is facing many challenges and immediate support is needed from all levels of government, local, provincial and federal. Stop providing Band-Aid funding and programs. We must get to the root cause of their issues and really deal with the healing and prevention, not crisis management. We need change,” he said.

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By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter