OTTAWA – The federal government will provide $69 million over the next three years for indigenous mental health services, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday after meeting a delegation of more than 20 aboriginal youth from northern Ontario.
The funding is designed to help communities tackle urgent mental health needs while the government works with indigenous leaders to negotiate a new health accord, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
A detailed breakdown of the new spending was not immediately available.
The money is intended to provide services including four crisis response teams in Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut — identified as having the greatest need — as well as 32 additional mental wellness teams.
Randall Crowe, a 24-year-old from Ontario’s Deer Lake First Nation, said it was important for the young people’s delegation to be heard.
“It is time that the youth take their stand … instead of being pushed aside, to actually take part in discussions that the leaders need to address,” Crowe said.
The meeting with the prime minister came as the Liberal government faces pressure to address issues including the delivery of health care on reserves.
NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus has spent weeks hammering the government for failing to add new spending in the budget for indigenous mental health.
Canadians should know aboriginal people do not receive the same level of health care overall as people who live off reserve, Crowe noted.
“Back home, we don’t have the medical services and all that like people in Ottawa,” he said, stressing the need for equality.
The dialogue also needs to be part of a continuing process, said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
“In order for those issues to be addressed, it will require ongoing dialogue, ongoing work, ongoing work on the part of everyone here so that will be one of the things they are asking for at the meeting today,” he said in an interview before the meeting.
It is very powerful for parliamentarians to hear directly from youth, Fiddler added.
“I think sometimes, when we hear from politicians or leaders like myself saying the same thing over and over again, sometimes it loses its power,” he said.
“I think to hear this from an 18-year-old who lives this in their community daily, that’s something that cannot be ignored.”
Trudeau is also sitting down with Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Bruce Shisheesh.
That meeting was agreed to in May following a spate of suicide attempts in the northern Ontario community that garnered international media attention.
Shisheesh and Trudeau were expected to be joined by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Last week, Bellegarde said he would also raise the inadequate level of child welfare services on reserves during the discussion.
“The short-term, medium and long-term strategies that have to be put in place, that will be one of the items to be talked about,” he said.
Over a nine-year period, the AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, led by First Nations advocate Cindy Blackstock, fought the government on the underfunding of child welfare services on reserve.
In January, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal delivered a landmark ruling, saying the federal government discriminated against native children in its funding of welfare services.
Despite this finding, the federal government continues to racially discriminate against aboriginal children in its delivery of on-reserve services, Blackstock told a Commons committee last week.
In its first budget, the Liberal government committed $71 million this year to the delivery of those services.
The amount needed to close the gap is actually somewhere around $200 million, Blackstock said.
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