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Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation declares substance use emergency

April 20 notice calls for action and the mobilization of resources in response to the crisis
The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has been the latest Yukon jurisdiction to declare a substance use emergency. (Yukon News file)

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) is the latest Yukon jurisdiction to declare that substance use in its jurisdiction constitutes an emergency.

On April 20, the First Nation’s government passed a community emergency declaration that they say recognizes the substance use crisis faced by residents of Old Crow and the broader Vuntut Gwitchin community. It also calls for action and the mobilization of resources in response to the crisis.

“The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has suffered immense losses due to substance use and overdoses, especially opioids and alcohol,” the declaration reads.

“The ongoing substance use crisis has impacted and devastated individuals, families and the community as a whole. Chief and council stand with the families and friends who are suffering because of the deaths and loss caused by the substance use crisis. We have heard the cry for help, and we are determined to do our part to help people without judgment.”

It goes on to call for the community to come together and support people on their healing journeys with Gwitchin teachings, traditional practices, cultural activities and time spent on the First Nation’s ancestral homeland.

The Vuntut Gwitchin Government also declared its plans to support harm reduction and treatment programs including assistance in helping people access supports and creating a safe exchange program. Also planned is a network of treatment and recovery services. The use of new treatment or therapy approaches within a culturally safe program is also being planned with the possible use of suboxone, a drug designed to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, highlighted. Efforts to reduce the supply of harmful substances in Old Crow were also promised.

“As leaders in the community, chief and council call on the Yukon government, other Yukon First Nations, partners and organizations to come together to collaborate on work to alleviate the crisis and improve the health of the Vuntut Gwitchin community,” the declaration concludes.

VGFN isn’t the first Yukon group to declare an emergency and pledge extraordinary action in response to the substance use crisis.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation declared a state of emergency in January of 2022 and the Yukon government followed up by declaring a territory-wide emergency a few days later. More recently, the First Nation of Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun (FNNND) declared a state of emergency this March after two Whitehorse men were killed in the community of Mayo. FNNND’s declaration states that the First Nation is dealing with an opioid emergency that is terrorizing people with violence, crime, overdoses and death.

The announcement from VGFN came the same day the Yukon Coroner’s Service announced it is investigating four deaths believed to be related to substance use that took place between April 15 and 18. The deaths occurred in Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Whitehorse. In the release, the coroner said three of the four deceased were members of Yukon First Nations.

As many as eight deaths in the territory since January may have been substance-use related, according to the Yukon’s chief coroner. On April 20, chief coroner Heather Jones told the News that three deaths this year have confirmed substance use involvement and another five, including the series from April 15 to 18, are suspected to be caused by substance use.

The death toll in the territory from illicit drugs reached 25 in both 2021 and 2022.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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