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Indigenous leaders are calling for more support for northern communities to combat what they say has become a “raging epidemic” of drug-dealing and bootlegging and they say they are concerned because they believe that in many cases, drugs and alcohol are making their way north through the mail.
On Sunday Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee released a statement after he said a “concerning incident” in a First Nation in northern Manitoba over the weekend left one person dead.
“The consumption of drugs by an individual in the Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation in recent days is believed to have set off a series of tragic events, which ended in the death of a young person,” Settee said.
Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation is the northernmost First Nation in Manitoba, and Settee said he believes drugs and alcohol, in many cases, are being sent there and to other northern communities through the postal system.
“MKO is aware of a raging epidemic in bootlegging and drug-dealing in Northern First Nations, this has been an ongoing concern for years,” Settee said.
“I have repeatedly raised with the Manitoba Justice Minister, Premier of Manitoba, and senior officials the urgent need to make arrangements to inspect mail, parcels, and packages for alcohol and drugs being delivered into MKO First Nations.”
According to Settee, the drugs and alcohol making their way into communities in the north are causing serious harm to community members and families and he is now calling for a “whole of government” approach to address the issue.
“There must be a committed, focused, multi-jurisdictional engagement of policing, health, harm reduction, social services and child and family services to address the harm caused and victims created by the virtually unrestrained activities of bootleggers and drug-dealers and the adverse effects and too-often tragic outcomes of alcohol and drug use, abuse, and addictions,” Settee said.
In a media release, Sayisi Dene Denesuline Nation Chief Evan Yassie spoke about the “severe” addictions issues that continue to cause harm in his community.
“The young people in our community are hurting,” Yassie said. “There are severe addictions issues, and it will take a coordinated approach to address these issues in a holistic, culturally-relevant way.
“As we are an isolated and remote community, it is essential the resources are put in place so that anyone can access them without having to travel to an urban centre.”
In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Monday, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he was aware of and concerned about issues of drug-dealing and bootlegging in northern Manitoba and that he had plans to bring up the topic with federal officials this week.
“I appreciate the efforts of Grand Chief Settee in continuing to highlight the real problem of drug-dealing in northern First Nations and the concern that these drugs may be finding their way to the community through the postal system,” Goertzen said.
“This is an issue nationally that police have raised in an effort to obtain federal authority to better prevent deadly drugs like opioids moving through the mail system and a concern that I share as well.
“It is an issue that I will be specifically raising with the federal Minister of Justice personally during a meeting we are scheduled to have later this week.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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