First Nation strife will grow without treatment: Edzerza

There will be more armed standoffs between police and depressed First Nation men, such as last week’s incident in Mayo, says John Edzerza, the…

There will be more armed standoffs between police and depressed First Nation men, such as last week’s incident in Mayo, says John Edzerza, the Yukon NDP’s health critic.

Such conflicts are bound to happen, and grow worse, while deep-rooted social woes among First Nations continue to be left unaddressed, said the MLA for McIntyre-Takhini.

The territory needs a land-based treatment centre, where First Nation people could receive counselling while outdoors, he said.

“This is what I’ve been harping at (Premier) Dennis Fentie for in all my years — four years in his government and two in opposition, and it just doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the priority list,” said Edzerza.

“He’s willing to spend $31 million on the road from Watson Lake to Ross River. But nothing on the social issues.”

That is nonsense, said Fentie.

While health minister, Edzerza “was mandated to proceed with the development of a treatment centre,” he said.

“And Mr. Edzerza failed Yukoners,” said Fentie. “He failed First Nations. He quit.”

Edzerza resigned from cabinet in August 2006, after announcing his intentions to seek re-election with the New Democratic Party. At the time, he cited several reasons for his departure, including his desire to see more support for drug addicts.

The Yukon government will build a treatment centre and offer on-the-land treatment options, said Fentie.

“It is a commitment made by the government,” he said.

But no timeline exists because “timelines are difficult when you start developing something as complex and extensive as a treatment centre,” he said.

No money has yet been set aside for these projects, because further consultation with First Nations is required, said Fentie. The projects would eventually be paid for with money from the federal government’s Northern Strategy fund, he added.

But Yukoners struggling with addiction and mental health problems are far better served under his government than in the past, said Fentie.

“When this government came into office there wasn’t even a detox centre available in the Yukon,” he said. “Under our watch and management, there now is. And now we’re proceeding to the next level.”

Mayo is currently only served by a social worker who commutes from Dawson City for one day every week. But in October, a full-time social worker with a masters degree, hired by the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, is to begin work.

But more will be needed to cope with social problems that have roots in residential school trauma, said Edzerza.

Outdoor treatment with a focus on traditional culture is needed to reach people who are unresponsive in institutional settings, said Edzerza.

And many First Nations already have cabins that could be used to run healing programs, he said.

But the government is reluctant to partner unless counsellors have “masters degrees out the ying yang,” he said.

First Nation governments may be reluctant to take up his advice, said Edzerza.

This may be because people are struggling with their own problems, he said.

 Or, perhaps, they’re afraid to “open a can of worms.”