Indigenous Service Canada (ISC) officials are scheduled to meet with Bearspaw Nation representatives in the coming days to support the establishment of a mental wellness crisis response team.

In response to a recent letter from Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon, spokesperson Carolane Gratton says ISC is deeply concerned by the loss of lives in Bearspaw First Nation by suicide and by opioid overdoses as a result of the legacies of colonization.

"We would like to express our deepest sympathy to the families that have been affected," states the response. "We continue to work with Bearspaw First Nation leadership, its community health director, other health professionals in the community, and partners both federal and provincial to address the substance use crisis in Alberta." 

She says Bearspaw First Nation was successful in its bid to receive support for a mental wellness crisis response team for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 fiscal years to provide a vital resource to help the community deal with the ongoing crisis.

"Further, we can confirm that ISC officials are scheduled to meet with the Nation in the coming days to discuss and support the establishment of this team, as well as to discuss supports across the mental wellness continuum of care." 

While the programs and funding allocations to community-based programs are a start, ISC acknowledges more work is needed to end the opioid crisis.

Gratton says ISC acknowledges intergenerational trauma experienced by First Nations people as a result of colonization is linked to higher rates of substance use, suicide, and interpersonal violence. It recognizes the need to support the healing, resurgence of culture, strength, and resilience of Indigenous individuals, families, and communities to combat this issue.

"We recognize this is a serious issue and recent budgets have continued to invest to combat rising issues in opioid use and mental health. These investments include a national network of residential treatment centers, case management supports and prevention training, access and support services for Suboxone (opioid agonist therapy), and local multidisciplinary mental wellness teams that provide culturally appropriate services."

in his letter to ISC, Bearspaw Chief Dixon called the forced amalgamation of the three Stoney-Nakoda Nations an illegal order-in-council and believes it is a root cause of many of these issues and problems being faced.

Bearspaw is seeking to be a sovereign First Nation and Chief Dixon says discussions between the parties have to date been a complete failure.

Gratton says ISC works with the Stoney Tribal Administration and the Bearspaw First Nation on an ongoing basis to help advance their request for a separate funding agreement and remain fully committed to working with Bearspaw First Nation on their aspirations for increased autonomy and improved services for members.