The meeting opened with a prayer and song by Elder Maggie Paul. Afterward, attendees were welcome to the meeting by Sakom Polchies, particularly the elders and youth. The focus of the meeting was to move forward from the October 6 meeting following the community-led actions against illicit drug distribution. Representatives from various departments were present to offer input and answers to questions raised by community members.
Key Takeaways, as raised by community members, including elders and youth were as follows:
- Mental Health – Many individuals addicted to drugs are doing so out of the result of trauma.
- Isolation – Members feeling isolated from the community may not be helped as easily, so a focus should be on engaging them in meaningful dialogues.
- Bylaw Enforcement – Enforcement needs to be done in a way that doesn’t prioritize imprisonment or other institutionalization; community would prefer more culturally in-tune measures be used wherever possible.
- Drug Committee – Members were urged and agreed to formation of a committee to advise Chief and Council on the steps they’d like to see taken to address these problems in the future.
- Capacity – Calls for more beds at in-community treatment facilities like Apatawsuwikuwam, expanded hours for community mental health workers.
- Continued Discussion – Both community members and Chief and Council agreed further discussions on this need to be held with public involvement and invitations for more citizens to sit on the drug committee mentioned above.
Sakom Polchies led the meeting forward by stating the focus would be on the path forward, starting that night and inviting Julia Kennedy Francis to present a brief presentation on the implementation of bylaws in Indigenous communities under the Indian Act. There were a handful of options on how best to implement these bylaws, with Section 81 being the most direct path for bylaw creation, within the confines of its subsections A, C, P-P.1, Q and R. These subsections contain the framework for implementation of bylaws which were previously limited by requiring review by the federal government (Until 2014) but are now largely in the domain of First Nations themselves if they have proven support for the motion. Due to requirements set forth in Section 86, the band must also publish the bylaws online, in the First Nations Gazette or a newspaper or publication with circulation on reserve (Community website and newsletter are both sufficient for these purposes); hard copies must also be available for citizens who request one at the band office.
TJ Burke was present as legal advisor to Chief and Council on this process and provided some clarity regarding the use of Section 85, adding that bylaws developed under this subsection are still limited in scope but alterations to the framework can be made by individual bands with community consent.
Sections 30 and 31 were also raised as potential avenues for handling some of the undesirable non-citizen visitors to the community. These explicitly allow band administration to issue notices of trespass to individuals with the potential for a summary conviction resulting in a fine or jail time.
Following the presentation, the floor was opened for community members to provide input. The first to step forward was a youth member calling for compassion for individuals struggling with drug addiction and requesting assistance be offered before removal. “Focus on cleaning them up, don’t tear them down, build them up and help them,” they said.
Additional input from the young member included suggestions that all of the attendees, Chief and Council included, should take a course on naloxone administration. Representatives from the Health Centre noted there would be a course in the coming days and they can be scheduled as requested.
Another youth raised concerns around the need for improved mental health services within the community. A discussion ensued, noting that many of the drug addicts within the community are struggling with mental health issues stemming from trauma, both lived and intergenerational. Specific calls to avoid criminal charges that would lead to imprisonment and institutionalization of members dealing with drug use.
Community members raised concerns around exceptions being made for cannabis retailers within the community, noting that cannabis could pose a problem for some individuals in recovery or struggling with addiction. Similar sentiments were held around alcohol, albeit no major alcohol distribution takes place through known businesses in the community. These concerns were noted by Chief and Council for discussion later.
Mental health was raised again throughout the meeting, with members noting that there’s often discussion of a focus on mental health but little regard given to it in peoples interactions with one another at times. “We don’t talk about it until there’s another suicide,” said one member.
Councillor Evan Sacobie clarified that there’s a potential for experts on indigenous recovery to visit. Meeting set up with them in the coming days, with its resulting options to be shared to the committee.
Julia Kennedy Francis urged members engaged in these discussions to make recommendations based on what they’d like to see addressed, be it disorderly conduct by visitors, public nuisances or drug traffickers directly.
Chief and Council will discuss the results of this meeting, as well as assist in the development of a citizen-led drug committee to offer advice in the coming days. SMFN Leadership thanks all attendees and will consider their input while moving to developing a strategy tailored to the community’s needs.
The next Chief and Council meeting will be held on October 19, 2021. If citizens have input on the above issues or any other concerns, please contact a member of Chief and Council or Band Administration by calling the band office or via their listed contact information on the community website.