North

Native Women's Association 'appalled' health minister won't admit to mental health crisis in N.W.T.

The Native Women's Association of the N.W.T. said the territorial health minister's inability to recognize a mental health crisis shows she is "disconnected" from the difficult circumstances some northerners are facing.

Group says Green is 'disconnected' from experiences of some northerners

Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green received a letter from the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T. in response to her not saying there is a mental health crisis facing the territory. (CBC News)

The Native Women's Association of the N.W.T. says it is "appalled and dismayed" after the territorial health minister refused to say there is a mental health crisis in the N.W.T.

The May 4 letter, signed by the association's president, Denise McDonald, comes in response to an interaction between Health Minister Julie Green and an MLA during question period back in February.

Denise McDonald, president of the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T., wrote a letter to N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green calling for a meeting to talk about mental health. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Katrina Nokleby, the MLA for Great Slave, asked Green if she would "finally admit that we are in a mental health crisis here in the Northwest Territories, after two years of this pandemic?"

But Green did not make such an admission.

Instead, she said: "I feel confident that we're not facing anything that we can't deal with."

McDonald said the exchange shows that Green is "disconnected" from the "excruciating circumstances that some people experience in the North." She also said it was disrespectful of the individuals, families, and communities who struggle with addictions and other trauma-related issues every day.

The letter goes on to say COVID-19 has enhanced the mental health crisis in the North — with increasing rates of homelessness and addiction, suicide, violence, depression and incarceration. 

"Intergenerational trauma and the pandemic have created a double burden that is overwhelming our ability to deal with it," it reads. 

The letter also calls for a meeting between Green and the association.

"We are aware that before meaningful strides can [be] made by the [Government of the Northwest Territories], the Minister of Health and Social Services has to acknowledge that there is a mental health crisis occurring in the Northwest Territories," McDonald wrote. 

Green responded to an interview request by CBC News in an email saying she appreciates the concerns raised by the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T., and that her office is setting up an meeting with the organization. 

A call for local addiction treatment 

Michael Fatt, an advocate who has lived experienced of homelessness, said he sees the mental health crisis everyday when he interacts with people in Yellowknife who don't have homes.

Fatt said a solution would be for the territory to open local addiction treatment centres, because the distance to travel to one outside the territory is a barrier for many.

"A lot of them can't even go because they don't have the IDs," he said. "They have to go through a long process. By that time they're just drunk again and they're not even interested anymore," he said. 

Michael Fatt, an advocate for people who are homeless in Yellowknife, said he sees the mental health crises everyday. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Fatt said someone needs to think of new ways to address the issues of homelessness, addiction and reconciliation. 

He said right now people are following an old system with old guidelines. 

"I think that's stuff that needs to be revamped."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luke Carroll

Reporter

Luke Carroll is a journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife who has previously worked in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Luke is originally from Brockville, Ont., and moved to Yellowknife in May 2020. He can be reached at luke.carroll@cbc.ca.

With files from Sidney Cohen

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