Many in Saskatchewan are concerned about the level of attention Indigenous problems are receiving during the federal election campaign, following a difficult summer for Indigenous communities across the country.
Indigenous academics and leaders agree that mental health in their communities is under-reported.
Furthermore, they think that no party appears to have a plan that will have a significant influence on the difficulties that Indigenous people experience both on and off reserve.
Mental health and addictions issues have been ever present in their communities, but the pandemic has exposed them to another degree.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council said services on reserve fall short of where they need to be.
“That’s the number one result of why we have children in care, a lot of our men and women inside of incarceration institutions,” Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said.
Researchers agree this is the reality for Indigenous people across Canada.
Each issue is intertwined with the next, whether it’s housing, education, crime or mental health.
Based on what each major political parties’ platform and what their leaders have said, many in the community are pessimistic about how mental health and addictions will be addressed by the next federal government.
“These issues have been going on for decades and they continue to go on. I’m not confident that these issues are going to be adequately addressed,” University of Saskatchewan associate professor John Hansen said.
He added the platforms look similar to what governments have been doing for the last 20 years.
Hansen, a faculty member in Indigenous studies, noted while funding promises are good starting points, an approach that incorporates multiple factors of Indigenous life is what will create positive change.
“A holistic approach would include for Indigenous people the mental, physical, spiritual and economical. Economically, Indigenous communities are marginalized,” he told Global News.
A Statistics Canada report from May 2020 found Indigenous people were generally more stressed, anxious and having worse mental health outcomes compared to non-Indigenous people when the pandemic started.
Indigenous leaders have been left with a large ordeal and are calling on a different approach to be taken when it comes to mental health as many are dealing with intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system as well as other former government policies.
“The only way to do that is to make the investment of mental health and addictions in our First Nations communities, but also serving the gap when they leave our communities into the urban settings and making sure it’s Indigenous lead for indigenous people,” Arcand added.
He noted the tribal council has seen great success in the Saweyihtotan project and hopes lawmakers in Ottawa can mirror this with other Indigenous-led programs.
An assistant professor in health studies from the University of Regina said there has been a shift in how providers and experts view issues around mental health and addictions.
Elizabeth Cooper studies the effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities’ health, and she believes the future administration should consider focusing on providing all-encompassing services to Indigenous communities in order to achieve true change.
“Even though there is a great movement and push for mental health to be at the center of what we’re doing, true consultation about harm reduction is not at the center of platforms for change,” she added.
Arcand, Hansen, and Cooper all agree that a wrap-around strategy with all parties and agencies at the table is needed to ensure that treatment alternatives are available to everyone, whether they live on a reserve or in a city or town.