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B.C. First Nation declares emergency after spike in overdose deaths

State of local emergency issued for all six Tŝilhqot’in communities west of Williams Lake
Tŝilhqot’in National Government tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse is encouraging the RCMP to deal with drug dealers in their communities. (Tammy Haller file photo)

A spike in overdose deaths in April has prompted the Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) to declare a state of local emergency, urging government agencies to work together to help stop the loss of life.

The order was issued for all six Tŝilhqot’in communities, located west of Williams Lake, and provides the Nation with the opportunity to access additional government support, noted the TNG in a news release issued Friday, April 12.

“Drugs are a major problem in our communities. As leaders we feel that our hands are tied,” said Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, O.B.C, LL.D. (hon.), Tribal Chair TNG. “We need to act to not lose anymore lives. The RCMP know who the dealers are and need to deal with this. A State of Emergency is an opportunity to address this crisis.”

The TNG noted a toxic drug supply combined with the harms of historical and present-day colonialism are contributing to higher rates of death from toxic drugs amongst Indigenous peoples compared to other populations in the province. The leaders said treatment facilities lack the capacity to take on new patients.

Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Otis Guichon, vice-chair of the TNG, is the chief of Tsideldel where two young individuals died early Saturday, April 4.

The community, located approximately 180 km west of Williams Lake, has an on-reserve population of about 300 people.

“They both left behind young children,” he said, noting the deaths are leaving him at a loss for words to say.

“Our people are grieving over the recent losses in our communities. We need time and tradition to heal while we search for Tsilhqot’in-led solutions. We call on the local health authorities to work with our communities and expand facilities to support our members who want treatment. Our thoughts and prayers are with those families grieving right now.”

Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Chief Roger William said three weeks ago his community lost a 30-year-old individual to addiction who died at home in the community.

“Their addiction had them for a long time,” he said, noting the individual also had children.

On March 25, 2024, Interior Health issued a drug poisoning alert for the Williams Lake area due to multiple drug poisonings including fatalities in Williams Lake related to down or fentanyl use. It remained in effect until April 1, IH confirmed Monday, April 8.

The bulletin encouraged people to get drugs checked and be aware of mixing drugs, including alcohol.

With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski/Williams Lake Tribune

READ MORE:First Nation communities in Chilcotin grieve 3 fatal drug poisonings

Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

I began my journalism career in daily and weekly newspapers in Alberta.
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