Social Emergencies on reserves are recurring and frequent, triggered by a number of underlying issues. These include access to health services, prescription drug abuse, inadequate housing, sexual abuse, lack of safe drinking water, and public safety concerns. However, there is not a formal agreement or protocol to guide response to these emergencies. The Journey Together committed to creating a social emergency protocol, working with the federal government and First Nation communities.

This commitment came about in response to the Muskegowuk Tribal Council report, The People’s Inquiry into Our Suicide Pandemic and Grand Chief Fiddler’s call on provincial and federal governments to form an emergency task force in January 2016. In response, a tripartite planning committee comprised of the Mushkegowuk Council, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Grand Council Treaty #3, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Health Canada was struck in October 2016 to plan a summit. Two focus groups held in January 2017 prior to the Summit to inform the tripartite protocol, identify gaps in service, ascertain the resources that already exist and can be used in a social emergency, and the community needs to bridge the existing gaps.

The Summit on Social Emergencies in Remote First Nations was held from March 23-24 in Thunder Bay, and included representation from remote First nation communities, Mushkegowuk Council, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Grand Council Treaty #3, independent First nation, provincial ministries, federal departments, and service delivery agencies. The agenda included youth and elder panels offering their perspectives, presentation of the draft tripartite protocol for discussion, presentation of land based programs, best practices, and presentations on provincial-federal coordination.

The key achievement from the Summit was a draft protocol on social emergencies, which would allow for better coordination during emergencies. Ontario supported the protocol engagement and development process in 2016/17, while Canada will develop the strategy and approach to build capacity in 2017/18. This protocol will be finalized in Spring 2017, and a joint social emergencies steering committee will be formed to develop a guide for such emergencies. This process cost $500,000 to complete, with the funding allocated to Indigenous partners through MIRR.

More recently, Ontario announced the creation of an Indigenous Youth and Community Wellness Secretariat in response to the spring/summer 2017 suicide crisis in northern communities.  Grand Chief Fiddler recommended a “permanent secretariat” to streamline resources and eliminate the bureaucracy First Nation communities face during crises. Hoskins stated the purpose of the secretariat is “to ensure efficient and effective coordination of efforts and resources to address this crisis.” At present, many provincial and federal resources are available to communities in times of crisis, but they are not offered as a cohesive unit.[1] This means that communities in crisis are forced to navigate significant bureaucratic hurdles to secure resources they desperately need during times of crisis, often delaying help that is urgently needed.

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[1] Some programs include: First Nations and Inuit Health Programs (Health Canada), INAC’s Building Healthy Communities – Mental Health Crisis Management, Non-Insured Health Benefits Short Term Crisis Intervention Mental Health Counselling (INAC), the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy (MCSS), and other provincially funded resources.

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