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Alberta calls on federal government to help Indigenous communities with opioid crisis

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the federal government is failing when it comes to some of the big issues in its jurisdiction, particularly Indigenous health care.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the federal government is failing when it comes to some of the big issues in its jurisdiction, particularly Indigenous health care.

Speaking at the annual premiers’ conference on Tuesday, Smith said provincial leaders have a shared frustration with Ottawa.

“The federal government continues to intervene in our areas of jurisdiction, continues to try to dictate how we operate our programs and policies and yet they fail in their areas of jurisdiction,” she told reporters in Winnipeg.

“We’ve got a lot of big issues that the federal government needs to deal with — for instance on the issue of Indigenous health. They are completely failing Indigenous communities in supporting them in urban environments and in supporting them in the mental-health and addiction crisis.”

On Monday, Treaty 6 First Nations in Western Canada declared a state of emergency over rising opioid deaths and called on all levels of government for immediate support to address the crisis.

“Families, friends, and loved ones are being lost to this devastating crisis,” said Grand Chief Leonard Standingontheroad.

“If harm reduction isn’t available, our people will die. The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 Nations is asking the federal government to intervene and offer more effective, flexible and long-lasting support.”

The confederacy said in a statement that the treaty’s medicine chest clause dictates that the federal government has an obligation to provide health care on an ongoing basis. It said it expects all levels of government to adhere to and respect their treaty obligations.

It said the rise in mortality rates due to opioid toxicity is seven times higher among Indigenous people in Alberta — and 50 per cent of those people are between the ages of 20 and 39.

The death rates, it added, have spiked since the provincial government closed safe consumption sites.

There are seven supervised consumption sites across the province, but Smith’s government has focused on treatment and recovery for people using drugs.

Alberta Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Dan Williams said in a statement late Monday that the “deadly disease of addiction devastates families and destroys communities in Alberta and across North America, and this is especially true in First Nations communities.”

He said the province is partnering directly with First Nations to address the issue in the spirit of reconciliation.

“We’re continuing to strengthen these partnerships with Treaty 6 by committing to build and fully fund a recovery community in direct partnership with Enoch Cree Nation,” he said.

“Across Alberta we’ve announced the construction and funding of three more recovery communities in direct partnership with Tsuut’ina Nation, Siksika Nation and Kainai Nation. These are historic actions by the Government of Alberta that are outside of our traditional jurisdiction but are essential to moving forward in partnership with First Nations.”

Williams added that the province agrees with the confederacy that it’s time for the federal government to step up and provide more support for First Nations communities.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has not responded to a request for comment.