Members of the Onion Lake Cree Nation community came together to walk and raise awareness regarding issues affecting Indigenous people.
On Tuesday, the Nation hosted their Awareness Walk to bring attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls.
“It’s been a national campaign in the last decade,” said Director of Operations Philip Chief.
“I think it’s important that we make our people aware, and let the general public know that our people are going through tough times.”
Along with missing and murdered people, Chief said the campaign was also used to spotlight other issues Indigenous people face such as high suicide rates, addictions, and gang and drug affiliations.
Chief said the authorities in the community have noted a significant increase in wellness checks — where police visit houses to monitor a resident’s well-being or safety risk.
He stated Onion Lake alone has received over 2,000 calls for those requests, a massive spike from only around 500 calls in all of 2019.
While the community does have services available, Chief claimed those services are overburdened by high demand and are not readily available to those who need them.
With the awareness walk behind him, Chief hopes the community leaders will work to make those services more accessible and better equipped to meet the demand.
“We have addiction within most of our communities, and they are struggling to send our people to detox centres because they are backed up with hardly any room. I think these are things that we have to continue supporting to help our people however we can.”
For their part, the community has been working on installing a new 49-room detox centre, but the facility is currently bring used to accommodate the challenges presented by COVID-19.
The committee involved with the project views this facility as an integral piece in combatting drug and gang problems, and has plans to have the facility fully-operational and accredited in a 12-month plan.
“For a community the size of Onion Lake, there is much more pressure to find ways and handle drug and gang activities. This is one of the ways that leadership supports. It’s not as fast as we would like it to be, but we’re getting there.”
One of Chief’s biggest concerns is how these issues will impact the youth of the community and the future generations to follow if they aren’t addressed as soon as possible.
He aspires to increase education and develop a youth outreach program in the community to counter the heavy presence of drug and gang-related activity.
Chief stated these initiatives are of utmost importance to the long-term well-being of their future.
“This is as essential as breathing and drinking water to survive. If we don’t heed the cries of our people, there will be more trouble to come. We need to prepare our young population and equip them with the right tools and resources. Our people deserve an opportunity to be healed and have the resources available for them. At the end of the day, it is up to that individual if they want to use them.”