Federal parties missing the mark on Indigenous mental health, addictions, experts say

Following a dark summer for Indigenous communities across the country, many in Saskatchewan are concerned about the level of attention Indigenous issues are getting during the federal election campaign.

Leaders and Indigenous academics concur that mental health in their communities isn’t being spoken about enough.

On top of that, they agree there doesn’t appear to be a plan by any party that will have a serious impact regarding the issues Indigenous people face both on- and off-reserve.

Read more: Indigenous leaders want more clarity on reconciliation after final election campaign debate

Mental health and addictions issues have been ever present in their communities, but the pandemic has exposed them to another degree.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council said services on reserve fall short of where they need to be.

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“That’s the number one result of why we have children in care, a lot of our men and women inside of incarceration institutions,” Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said.

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon-University candidates on Indigenous issues' Saskatoon-University candidates on Indigenous issues

Saskatoon-University candidates on Indigenous issues

Researchers agree this is the reality for Indigenous people across Canada.

Each issue is intertwined with the next, whether it’s housing, education, crime or mental health.

Read more: Violence against Indigenous women and girls gets little airtime in final federal election debate

Based on what each major political parties’ platform and what their leaders have said, many in the community are pessimistic about how mental health and addictions will be addressed by the next federal government.

“These issues have been going on for decades and they continue to go on. I’m not confident that these issues are going to be adequately addressed,” University of Saskatchewan associate professor John Hansen said.

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He added the platforms look similar to what governments have been doing for the last 20 years.

Hansen, a faculty member in Indigenous studies, noted while funding promises are good starting points, an approach that incorporates multiple factors of Indigenous life is what will create positive change.

“A holistic approach would include for Indigenous people the mental, physical, spiritual and economical. Economically, Indigenous communities are marginalized,” he told Global News.

Read more: 60% of Indigenous people say mental health is worse due to COVID-19: survey

A Statistics Canada report from May 2020 found Indigenous people were generally more stressed, anxious and having worse mental health outcomes compared to non-Indigenous people when the pandemic started.

Indigenous leaders have been left with a large ordeal and are calling on a different approach to be taken when it comes to mental health as many are dealing with intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system as well as other former government policies.

“The only way to do that is to make the investment of mental health and addictions in our First Nations communities, but also serving the gap when they leave our communities into the urban settings and making sure it’s Indigenous lead for indigenous people,” Arcand added.

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He noted the tribal council has seen great success in the Saweyihtotan project and hopes lawmakers in Ottawa can mirror this with other Indigenous-led programs.

Read more: Saskatoon Indigenous outreach program focuses on cultural connections

An assistant professor in health studies from the University of Regina said there has been a shift in how providers and experts view issues around mental health and addictions.

Elizabeth Cooper researches the impacts of colonialism on the health of Indigenous communities and said the focus on offering all-encompassing services to Indigenous communities needs to be considered by the next government for real change.

“The true consultation about harm reduction is not at the centre of platforms for change, even though there is a huge drive and a huge push for mental health being at the centre of what we’re doing,” she said.

Arcand, Hansen and Cooper agree there has to be a wrap-around model with all parties and agencies at the table ensuring there are treatment options available regardless if someone is living on reserve or in a city or town.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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