First Nation communities get together for mental health summit

A two-day summit has shone a light on the needs of northern Indigenous communities.

The Mushkegowuk Mental Health Summit ran for two days in Timmins, bringing together delegates from First Nation communities to discuss issues their members face and solutions to gaps in care.

While it was sponsored by the federal government, there was not a representative present.

“We’re very appreciative that they sponsored this event,” said Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Alison Linklater. “But we need them to be here too. We need them to take time for us, and to work with us.”

Ontario Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo attended sessions on both Thursday and Friday.

Linklater says the government’s willingness to work with the council and the communities is an important factor in getting their members the care they need.

“There are always going to be issues that can’t be solved at these meetings like housing and other long-term and short-term issues,” said Linklater. “For me as Grand Chief, even though there’s been a lot of work and developing those relationships with the governments.”

Many community leaders spoke about the need to communicate between programs and services, as it sometimes seems that there is a lack of knowledge about what other steps can be taken for community members in times of need.

“It’s hard to hear the stories because you hear the gaps and what people have been through,” said Linklater. “Hopefully hearing those stories, we will know how to move forward.”

The need for funding to provide infrastructure was also a hot topic of discussion, along with the need for all levels of government and organizations to work toward meeting community needs.

“Our communities have shared what they need, and having Minister Tibollo here, he’s met with three of the communities to really develop those relationships is really important to have that access,” said Linklater.

Focusing on programs that help people in the way they want and need, having 24/7 crisis availability, and land-based and culturally sensitive help, is the way forward, according to many of the presenters from many different communities.

“We’ve been able to collaborate with a lot of local governments and service programs,” said Doug Cheechoo, the community safety and justice special officer during his presentation to the summit. “We’ve met with all these people and continue to meet with them about the issues in our communities, and it would be nice to get that work going again after COVID.”

Linklater said that the communities should be the ones to guide where funding and services go.

“The communities know what they have, but coming together as a regional system, we need to work together on how to maintain access,” said Linklater. “It’s not just during crisis, but afterwards the continued support that needs to happen.”

Linklater said the main thing is that the communities get funding and the ability to build capacity for what they need.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” said Linklater. “We have to invest in our people.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,