The Bearspaw Nation is seeking a stronger working relationship with Indigenous Services Canada to address issues surrounding the high number of deaths and drastic drop in life expectancy in their community.
In a letter to ISC regional director general Jamie Brown, Chief Darcy Dixon has requested at least $250,000 to fund the cost of its spiralling number of funerals for young people. He expressed grave concern over the staggering drop in life expectancy in their Nation, much of it due to a continued opioid crisis.
Chief Dixon calls upon ISC and Health Canada to work closely with Bearspaw officials to help address and resolve some of the underlying issues contributing to the tragic scenario. As of yet, he believes that hasn't happened.
"My staff and I have tried to provide up-to-date and relevant information about this serious situation in our community," states the letter. "We have advised you and your officials in relation to the extraordinary number of recent deaths in the Bearspaw First Nation from opioid overdoses. (primarily fentanyl). Most of these deaths are our young people. This is devastating to our Nation on many levels."
In 2022, Bearspaw had 28 deaths at an average age of 44. Dixon says indications are that the average age will be even lower by the end of 2023. From April and June, they had 16 deaths.
He says the life expectancy of their nation dropped a staggering seven years between 2015 and 2021. Today it is 60 for men and 66 for women.
"It is difficult to believe we are talking about a group of people in Canada. We have been advised that the current life expectancy of a First Nations male in Canada currently aligns with men in Haiti which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (a Bearspaw male is now ranked lower). It has also been recently reported that the rate of opioid poisoning deaths is seven (7) times higher for First Nations people compared to non-First Nations people."
"These are my people, most of them young who will never have the opportunity to live their lives. We are related to all of them. This is clearly a health and safety issue for ISC Alberta Region," he said in the letter to Jamie Brown, ISC regional director.
"You are keenly aware that the Bearspaw Chief and Council does not have the financial resources to properly deal with this crisis.He says they have had to utilize funds allocated for essential services to pay for the funerals, something that Indigenous people are guaranteed at no cost.
"A large majority of my members would qualify under these circumstances; however, we receive no financial assistance for funeral costs as the responsible government party. We are lumped with the affairs of the Stoney Tribal Administration, which does not represent our interests in this matter."
He believes the forced amalgamation of the three Stoney-Nakoda Nations through what he calls an illegal order-in-council, is a root cause of many of these issues and problems.
"Despite our formal submission to ISC, we have been offered no assistance financial or otherwise, in Bearspaw First Nation’s demand for recognition as a separate, independent, sovereign First Nation (including Section 17 of the Indian Act) to date. Discussions between the parties to date have been superficial and a complete failure."
According to the statistics Chief Dixon quoted, the death toll has been high across all three Nations, peaking at 78 in 2020. In 2021, there were 51. The average age of death has been consistently 43 from 2018 and 2021.
He says it's wrong and unhelpful that the current policy of the Alberta Region of ISC does not permit the Bearspaw First Nation to charge back costs for utilities, rent, mortgages, insurance, etc. from income support funds, and is calling for amendments.
He states the average cost for a funeral is $10,000.
Cochrane Now has reached out to ISC for comment.