Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women, have been disproportionately affected by B.C.'s overdose crisis. Now, the provincial government has allocated $20 million over three years to fund Indigenous programs that aim to reduce drug-overdose deaths.
"Our people are deep in pain,” said Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council, quoted in a February 8 media release. “The way forward to achieving mental wellness in our families and communities requires new approaches. This investment gives our communities and caregivers opportunities to design initiatives and services to help our citizens heal. Listen, learn and act is what our leaders and Elders have told us. I'm grateful that our partners are working with us to address and resolve the historical legacy of the residential schools and assimilation policies."
The money comes from $322 million that the province announced would go to overdose response last September. It will be administered by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). To start, $2.4 million will be distributed this year to 55 community projects that were approved by the province after responding to a December 2017 call for proposals.
Another $1.6 million to be spent this year will support ongoing FNHA initiatives related to preventing fatal overdoses, helping people who are using drugs do so more safely, creating treatment options, and to “support people on their healing journey”.
Money will also go to expanding access to naloxone training and access to opioid-agonist therapy, especially in rural and remote communities.
An August 2017 analysis by the FNHA found that from February 2015 to July 2016, Indigenous people in B.C. were three times more likely to die of a drug overdose compared to non-Indigenous people.
Indigenous women have been especially affected by the crisis.
According to the report, Indigenous women were eight times more likely to overdose and five times more likely to suffer a fatal overdose compared to non-Indigenes women.
B.C. minister of mental health and addictions Judy Darcy is quoted in the February 8 release discussing the extent to which Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the crisis in the context of colonialism and racial oppression.
“I have heard from people about the heartbreaking toll that the overdose crisis is taking on First Nations communities throughout B.C.,” she said. “We know that these devastating losses are part of a much larger problem that has roots in colonization, dispossession of lands and resources, inter-generational trauma, racism and stigmatization.
“Together with the First Nations Health Authority, the funding announced today will help us to build a seamless and coordinated system of mental health and addictions services that support culturally-based treatment and recovery options for First Nations and Indigenous people."
More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of a drug overdose last year. That compares to an average of 204 deaths for the years 2001 to 2010.