Federal NDP calls for end of 'band-aid solutions' to Indigenous mental health

The federal NDP is calling for more federal help in combating mental health issues in Indigenous communities across the country.

4 youths have taken their own lives in northern Saskatchewan in 2 weeks

NDP MP Charlie Angus is taking the federal government to task over mental health funding for Indigenous communities across Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal NDP is calling for more federal help in combating mental health issues in Indigenous communities across the country.

NDP Indigenous Affairs critic Charlie Angus held a news conference in Saskatoon today, demanding that the federal government provide more mental health resources to First Nations and Métis towns and villages.

"My God, they move slow as molasses when Aboriginal children are dying," he said. "Just like the previous government, and the previous government before that. It's not good enough."

The call for action comes after four girls, ages 10 to 14, committed suicide in northern Saskatchewan this month. The girls were from the communities of Stanley Mission, La Ronge and Deschambault Lake.

Angus said there have been numerous cases of Indigenous youth committing suicide all across the country.

"These are not isolated instances," he said. "They are predictable. They are predictable if you underfund communities, if you do not give young people support, if you do not give them the resources and the hope, these things will happen."

Health Canada has announced that seven mental health professionals will travel to Stanley Mission every week, until the end of the year, to counsel at-risk youth. Two additional workers from Pelican Narrows have been sent to Deschambault Lake for immediate support.

An emergency operations centre has been set up in La Ronge.

Monthly visits by child psychologists

However, people from those communities said much more needs to be done. NDP MP Georgina Jolibois lives in northern Saskatchewan, and said her community of La Loche needs much more support.

"Child psychologists may come once a month to La Ronge or to La Loche," she said. "And the emergency team that they send in is quite often missing the culturally relevant, and elders are not recognized.

Yesterday, Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said its communities are facing "a state of crisis." FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron is calling for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue.

Harper government planned to spend more than Liberals

The former Harper government spent more money for First Nations and Inuit mental wellness in its last budget than what the Liberals committed in Budget 2016. Finance Minister Bill Morneau earmarked $8.6 billion in spending over five years for Indigenous peoples, but no new additional monies for mental health.

Planned spending dropped from $300.5 million in 2015-16 to $271.3 million in 2016-17. The department attributed the decrease to the "sunsetting of time-limited spending authorities relating to the Indian Residential Schools Resolution," a program that provided mental health support to survivors of the now-defunct school system.

The budget did get a boost after the Attawapiskat crisis and $69 million will be rolled out over the next three fiscal years. That money will be used to increase the number of mental wellness teams from the current 11 to 43.

That figure is still woefully short of what the Assembly of First Nations says is actually needed — 80 such teams to reach every First Nation, which would help to supplement existing mental health workers who work at child welfare agencies, institutions that advocates argue have been chronically underfunded.

Dr. Tom Wong, the chief medical office of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said at a recent parliamentary committee meeting, that it would be a "utopian situation" to actually assemble 80 mental health teams — a concession that angered the NDP's Indigenous affairs critic.

"It's not utopian. This is about making sure that every community has a mental health wellness team so their kids aren't killing themselves," Angus said.

With files from John Paul Tasker