Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon marks 1 year since declaring health emergency

One year since it declared a state of health emergency, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon says it’s still grappling with losses caused by substance use. But there’s reason for hope, community members say.

First Nation made declaration in January 2022 in response to surge of drug-related deaths

A white van with an emblem on it is parked outside a community centre. It's a sunny winter day.
A new outreach van for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation will be on the road starting in March. It's part of the community's efforts to address a substance use emergency. (Leslie Amminson)

One year after declaring a state of health emergency, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon says it's still grappling with losses caused by substance use. But community members also say there's reason for hope.

The First Nation declared the emergency in January 2022, in response to a surge of opioid-related deaths among community members. Shortly after, the territorial government also declared a substance use health emergency.

Darla-Jean Lindstrom is deputy Ḵaa Sháade Héni (chief) of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. She said the community is still experiencing the effects of fresh and ongoing grief.

"We're going through a mourning time, and we still have to deal with this crisis," she said. "And it doesn't get any easier. But we're trying to work on our health and healing from everything."

A close-up of a woman with short gray hair. She is wearing a coat and a blue scarf. The background behind is blurred but shows the outside of a buidling.
Darla-Jean Lindstrom is deputy Ḵaa Sháade Héni (chief) of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. She says she's seen more people seeking support and treatment for substance use problems. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The First Nation held an event on Friday to mark the anniversary.

In her remarks, Lindstrom called the day "sombre but celebratory." She said there'd been a lot of effort in the community over the past year to help people struggling with substance use.

More people are seeking treatment, Lindstrom said. She also said she'd seen elders reaching out and checking in on young people in the community to offer guidance and support.

Addressing support gaps

Brook Davis, who's been the nurse in charge of the Carcross Health Centre for 15 years, said the past year has been a challenging one. She said the health centre, which currently staffs six primary health care nurses, had been under strain.

"We see people when they are currently in a state of crisis regarding the use of alcohol or substances, not just opiates," Davis said. "So that makes any other planned programming come to a slow-down."

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has been working to offer additional supports.

On Friday, the First Nation's health and wellness team unveiled a new outreach van, stocked with harm reduction supplies, such as Naloxone kits, as well as snacks and warm clothes.

A woman stands, hands in pockets, in front of a white van. The doors are open and inside we can see boxes of supplies.
Stacey Robinson-Brown, director of health and wellness for the First Nation, said the team is looking for volunteers to help out with the new outreach van. (Leslie Amminson)

Stacey Robinson-Brown, director of health and wellness for the First Nation, said the team is looking for volunteers to help out, and has already gotten a lot of interest from community members.

"Maybe they were impacted by the crisis, maybe they know someone or maybe they just want to help," Robinson-Brown said. "And they will be paired with a health and wellness staff member and so they'll get the training that they need."

The van still needs some finishing touches before it hits the road in March. The plan is for the van to travel all around the Carcross/Tagish First Nation territory for two or three days a week to start, with the possibility of increasing operating hours in the future.

Yukon Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, who also spoke at Friday's event in Carcross, commended the First Nation's efforts. She pointed to a partnership between the health department, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Whitehorse-based outreach organization Blood Ties Four Directions.

"Literally, their teams went door to door, to every house in Carcross, providing Naloxone kits, drug-testing kits, training for how to use those and relay information to community members about the importance of not using drugs alone," she said.

Next steps

Gary Sidney Johnson, who lives in Carcross, said it's been heartening to see the community come together this way.

"Even though we declared a state of emergency a year ago, you know, we've kind of been in an emergency for quite a long time," he said. "And it's just nice to know that people want to do something about it."

Sidney Johnson lost a close friend about a year ago. For him, the anniversary is a reminder of that grief.

"It seems like more people are wanting to heal, because so many more people are getting impacted and affected by these deaths," he said.

Sidney Johnson said though people are seeking support and treatment, he's noticed a lack of programming and supports when they return from treatment programs outside their community.

Several bouquets of flowers lined up on a banquet table. The bouquets all have several purple flowers in them.
An array of flowers at Friday's event in Carcross. The purple colour was chosen to honour victims of the opioid crisis. (Leslie Amminson)

It's a gap Lindstrom said she's noticed as well. She'd also like to see more treatment programs available in the Yukon.

"Indigenous people here want treatment programs that are land-based." she said. 

"Alcoholism, mental health and addictions are just symptoms of other things, systemic things that still need to be looked at."

One initiative in the territory, Shäwthän Näzhì, recently received funding from the Arctic Inspiration Prize to offer just that kind of support at a farm near Haines Junction, Yukon.

McPhee agreed there is a gap in aftercare support, and said it's something the territorial government is working to address.

"It is something that we absolutely support," she said. "Messages have gone to every chief and council [regarding] on-the-land treatment, and whatever form it might take," she said. "It might be a culture camp, it might be a longer-term aftercare program."

The department of Health and Social Services is working on a Substance Use Action Plan, which is set to be released in the coming months. McPhee said she expects aftercare to be a focus of that plan.

When asked whether the Yukon would consider decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, something B.C. is trying, McPhee said it was too soon to say.

"I think there are very good reasons why it will speak to some members of the community if it were to be adopted here," she said. "But determining the success of that or the impact of it will be something that we can learn from British Columbia, and we're watching that very closely."

For Lindstrom, addressing substance use problems should begin even before they arise. 

"People talk about harm reduction. Well, let's go before that: prevention," she said. "And for me, as you heard me say earlier, prevention is from pre-birth to post-death."


Leslie Amminson is a reporter for CBC Yukon based in Whitehorse. She previously worked as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. You can reach Leslie with story tips and ideas at