Trudeau announces nearly $70M over 3 years for Indigenous mental health services

The federal government will provide nearly $70 million over three years in new funding to address the health and suicide crisis affecting Indigenous people living on reserve and in the territories, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday following a meeting with Indigenous youth.

New investment will fund 2 permanent mental health workers in Attawapiskat, PM says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his meetings yesterday with indigenous youth marks the beginning of a new era in Canada's relationship with first nations. 1:10

The Liberal government will invest nearly $70 million in new funding over three years to address the health and suicide crisis involving Indigenous people living on reserve and in the territories, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday following a meeting with Indigenous youth.

"While we will continue to engage Indigenous partners in finding long-term solutions to these pressing issues, we know that urgent action is needed — and it is needed now — to address the health and mental wellness crises being faced by Indigenous people," Trudeau said in a written statement.

The announcement came amid pressure from Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh, who had been pushing for a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau after his northern Ontario community saw multiple cases of youth drug overdoses and suicide attempts since April.

"We had an excellent meeting with the chief and band councillors from Attawapiskat to talk about the kind of relationship that we need going forward ... based also on concrete investments, things that are going to make difference in people's lives. That's exactly what this government is focused on doing," Trudeau said following his meeting with Shisheesh in Ottawa late Monday afternoon.

"This is the beginning of a new era, not just for Attawapiskat, but for relationships with First Nations across the country."

The new funding will provide "urgently" needed mental health services including:

  • Two permanent mental health care workers for Attawapiskat, a community of less than 2,000.
  • A 24-hour "culturally sensitive" crisis response line.
  • Four crisis response teams in Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut — regions the government said were identfied as as having "the greatest need."
  • An increase in the number of mental wellness teams, from 11 to 43, for communities "most at risk."
  • Training for existing community-based workers to ensure that care services are provided in a "culturally appropriate" way.
Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh speaks to reporters following his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill on Monday, June 13, 2016. (CBC News)

Shisheesh, who has been using social media to keep the plight of his community in the news, said the prime minister also committed to "fast tracking" the expansion of new land that will serve to build approximately 100 new housing units over the next five years.

"To be honest, I was surprised ... I didn't see that coming," the chief told reporters immediately after his meeting with Trudeau.

Shisheesh said while he welcomed Monday's announcement, including the news of two new permanent health care workers in his community, the new funding for struggling First Nations is "not enough."

"We're still in crisis mode... not just in Attawapiskat but all across Canada," the chief said.

"It will take a lot of work to bring healing."

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who also took part in Monday's discussions with Trudeau and the Attawapiskat chief, said it was a good meeting.

In an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Bellegarde welcomed Monday's announcement.

"It's always a good first step, but we're always going to keep pushing for long-term sustainable strategies."

"We need at least 80 mental wellness teams. We're going to start preparing again for next year's federal budget. That's what it's going to take to close the gap," Bellegarde told host Rosemary Barton.

A delegation of young indigenous Canadians meet with the Prime Minister to talk about critical issues post=Attawapiskat. 7:09

Former Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence also attended Monday's meeting with Trudeau and Shisheesh.

Spence garnered international media attention in 2013 after she went on a six-week hunger strike, subsiding on fish broth and medicinal tea, to draw attention to First Nations concerns.

Her attendance was made public after the prime minister posted a picture on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau also met with a delegation of some 20 youth from Nishnawbe Aski Nation from northern Ontario.

Monday's meetings were closed to reporters, including photojournalists.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose Timmins-James Bay riding includes Attawapiskat, was invited to take part in the prime minister's meeting with the young leaders.

"I'm very pleased the prime minister sat down and gave so much time to the Treaty 9 youth. These young people really are ground zero of the catastrophe that is facing Indigenous young people in Canada," Angus said in a phone interview with CBC News following Trudeau's announcement.

"It was very moving to see that interaction," the NDP critic for Indigenous and northern affairs said of the two-hour meeting.

According to Angus, Indigenous youth recounted stories of being denied medical services, of living in overcrowded housing with black mould, of leaving their communities as teenagers to go live in boarding homes.

"They really laid out the substandard inequity that young people are facing and they did it with such dignity," Angus said.

Angus said Monday's announcement is "a good step" but still falls short of the money that should be on the table.

"I'm hopeful but I'm still concerned," Angus said.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde on the government's funding boost for Attawapiskat and Indigenous mental health. 5:45