Bell Let's Talk about Indigenous mental health
Could pressure from charities force the government to live up to funding promises?
On Jan. 25, otherwise known as Bell Let's Talk Day — a nationwide social media campaign to encourage breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and raising funds for mental health programming — an anonymous donor stepped in to donate $380,000 to the Wapekeka First Nation, where two 12-year-old girls had recently taken their own lives.
The fly-in community, 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., had asked for funding of a similar amount but was denied by Health Canada last summer, the department claiming the request came at "an awkward time" during the budget cycle.
The death of the two girls, Jolynn Winter and Chantel Fox, highlights what's been referred to as a suicide epidemic in remote First Nation communities across Canada.
First Nations children are also disproportionately over-represented in the child welfare system.
Indigenous child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock is still currently fighting the federal government for equitable funding for Indigenous child welfare on reserve. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the government guilty of discriminating against First Nations children last year.
Lets talk,to reduce stigma of Mental Health. Support long term solutions for mental health and well-being of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Indigenous?src=hash">#Indigenous</a> women <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BellLetsTalk?src=hash">#BellLetsTalk</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ekm41UjSw5">pic.twitter.com/Ekm41UjSw5</a>—@NWAC_CA
And while millions of Canadians, and even American celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, tweet and Facebook touching messages of hope and support for those suffering from mental illness, the underfunding of First Nations mental health from the government continues. NDP MP Charlie Angus has accused Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett of "lying" about dollars flowing to communities.
The groundbreaking Bell campaign has impacted millions of Canadians and raised millions of dollars — 2017 set a record. Bell recently announced $250,000 to support Nunavut suicide prevention efforts, and a Bell spokesperson says nearly $500,000 in grants will support Indigenous communities from this year's funds. But the campaign, largely based on tweets, texts and Facebook posts, fails to elaborate how the money will address some of Canada's most troubling issues.
Bennett said recently on CBC's The Current that ignoring the funding needs of the Wapekeka First Nation "was a mistake." However, it doesn't erase that the funding never came and that the issue of First Nations mental health continues to be left out from the national conversation — social media or otherwise.
The Bell Let's Talk campaign has a chance to break ground in mental health and incorporate reconciliation into their campaign; the appetite exists for nuanced conversations on the issues facing Indigenous mental health. Nishawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler told CBC, "the public heard what was happening in Wapekeka, and they're telling us it's not acceptable and they want to help."
Should private corporations step in?
Using the Bell Let's Talk campaign to discuss many of the issues involved in First Nations mental health, including the effects of colonialism, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop can serve to destigmatize the lasting and intergenerational effects reflected in First Nation communities. Corporate pressure, like the anonymous donor to Wapekeka, could force the government to live up to their fiduciary obligation to Indigenous communities.
It shouldn't take the death of children, or private donors, for funding to come. Health Canada has confirmed to CBC it is now committed to on a multi-year basis, and even that should have been in place long ago.