Despite a change in leadership, Eabametoong is carrying on with its battle against prescription drug abuse.
Coun. Harry Papah recently stepped in as acting chief of the Matawa community of about 1,200 on-reserve band members after former chief Lewis Nate resigned in late January.
“We’re trying to get back on our feet again,” Papah said. “Right now the band councillors and I are working together to carry out our five-month term.”
Eabametoong’s next band election is scheduled for June 2011.
“We hired an emergency coordinator who is trying to pull all our resources together,” said Saul Atlookan, Eabametoong’s health manager. “At the same time we are trying to revive some of the activities that we had initially, such as recreation.”
The community has also been working on providing more outings for youth on to traditional lands.
“We are planning one now for early March,” Atlookan said. “In that, they have to learn how to survive in the bush.”
Another initiative involves educating people about prescription drugs, what they are and what they do to people who are abusing them.
“What we’re saying is OK, we’re going to learn about this and we’re going to learn how to combat it,” Atlookan said. “We’re in it and we see the light at the end of the tunnel as long as everybody gets together and wants a healthy community.”
But for those who want to deal with their prescription drug addictions, finding suitable treatment facilities is a problem.
“The biggest problem is finding facilities that are open and readily available within the immediate area,” Atlookan said, noting there is currently a waiting list for people who want to go for treatment. “And that is the most difficult thing to do – the wait list.”
Eabametoong has circulated an anonymous community survey asking people for their input on the prescription drug abuse issue.
“The vast majority of the people responded saying we need to do something, despite the fact they are right in it (prescription drug abuse)” Atlookan said. “They are trying to find ways and means so they can come out of it. But coming out of it is something different again if they don’t have the supporting services and professional people to help.”
While the community is currently working to establish a detox treatment facility in the community, Atlookan said they also need to have a treatment program with a holistic approach in place to allow people to deal with their personal issues after the initial 10-day detox treatment is completed.
“If one spouse is going into the program, you need to look after the rest of the family, preparing them for that one person’s return,” Atlookan said. “The most dangerous thing for that one person is to come back into the same environment. So you need to have a holistic approach where everybody gets involved and the support mechanisms are in place.”
Atlookan said the community also requires resources to continue their battle against prescription drug abuse, such as financial resources, professional resources, human resources or facilities.
“When we initiated the detox facility, nothing came from the government for that,” Atlookan said. “We had to assign one house to use (for the detox centre). There has been no money from the government for that – it’s basically our own financial resourcing.”
A Health Canada spokeswoman said Health Canada has not received a proposal to fund a detox centre in Eabametoong.
“Health Canada and its federal and provincial partners continue to work with the community to identify short and long-term actions that could support the Eabametoong First Nation in addressing critical health and safety issues,” said Olivia Caron, media relations officer with Health Canada, in an e-mail message.
Caron added Health Canada has committed to providing professional counselling services through the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority NODIN Program; supporting the Community Wellness Development Team in the development and implementation of the First Nation’s prescription drug abuse strategy; providing about $10,000 to facilitate the training for community members in Critical Incident Stress Management, with a focus on acquiring the skill set for Crisis Intervention and Emotional and Spiritual Care in a Disaster Situation; and providing $30,000 towards the emergency coordinator position requested in the community’s Nov. 3 proposal.
Eabametoong declared a state of emergency in October 2010 following a series of violent crimes that had residents fearing for their safety, including three murders, numerous cases of arson and a number of animal mutilations.
The community has since indicated it is following a seven-point action plan, including the declaration of the state of emergency, creation of an emergency response plan, political advocacy and lobbying from chiefs, tribal organizations and other leaders, development of a long-term plan for the community, improving communication among community members and leadership, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of successes and community development of strategies to build a brighter future for the community.
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