Wunnumin Lake leaders call for assistance following tragedies in remote community, NAN Grand Chief and Kiiwetinoong MPP support plea for assistance
Tim Brody - Editor
The community of Wunnumin Lake First Nation is appealing to provincial and federal governments for immediate intervention and support following the sudden deaths of three community members over a 36-hour period.
“Our community is under risk management to maintain community stability, but we require immediate and longer-term support to help us with the psychological trauma and impacts on our entire community,” said Wunnumin Lake First Nation Chief Sam Mamakwa during a press conference last week in Thunder Bay. “It is critical that the appropriate mental health and other supports are provided as quickly as possible to stabilize our community and help our members heal from these terrible events. We are doing the best we can, but the people of Wunnumin need to know that more help is on the way.”
According to the community, “Last week, a 20-year-old Wunnumin member fell from a communications tower located in the community, the cause of which is still under investigation. A youth who witnessed the incident later took his own life. Additionally, an Elder passed away while living in a long-term care facility away from the community without the family being informed until a day after his passing.”
An August 26 news release issued by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) states, “The nature and timeline of these losses have been traumatic to the entire community, which does not have access to appropriate mental health and counselling supports.
The leadership of Wunnumin Lake is asking the federal and provincial governments to:
• provide immediate mental health and intervention supports on an urgent basis;
• provide additional policing and security to support the community; and
• work with the community to establish dedicated mechanisms, with capacity-building and resources, to empower the community to respond to similar emergencies in the future.”
“We are very concerned for the welfare of the members of the Wunnumin Lake community as they grieve these terrible losses. Tragedies like this have devastating effects in our First Nations communities, and people often have nowhere to turn for help,” said NAN Grand Chief Derek Fox. “We will do everything we can to support the community and we look to our provincial and federal Treaty partners to respond immediately to Chief and Council’s requests for assistance.”
“Community-driven, culturally appropriate, and timely mental health supports are critical to promote the well-being of community members struggling to cope with the stress and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic has created. Demand for counselling and mental wellness supports was already trending upward before the pandemic, and the demand for these services cannot be met by existing programming.
“Likewise, it is unacceptable that Elders from Wunnumin and remote First Nations across NAN territory must be displaced to long-term care homes in urban centres when they could be better cared for in their own communities near their families and friends. Wunnumin leadership looks to the government of Canada and Ontario to explore the development of culturally appropriate long-term facilities in their community,” the NAN news release further stated.
Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong and NDP critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations, released the following statement on August 26 in support of Wunnumin Lake First Nation’s request for provincial help: “I share in the deep grief of Wunnumin Lake First Nation as it mourns the tragic loss of three precious lives in little more than a day. Losing two young people, one in a tragic fall and one to suicide, and then learning an elder has passed away in long-term care, far from family and home, is shattering. I am extremely worried about the impact of these events on the community — especially those who lost a loved one or witnessed the traumatic circumstances
of the deaths.
“Community-based, culturally appropriate mental health resources are needed immediately, and I echo Wunnumin Lake First Nation’s call on the Ford government to urgently provide immediate and long-term investments in a comprehensive and coordinated continuum of mental health care.
“The community is in crisis now. There is no time for jurisdictional ping-pong. Ontario must urgently answer Wunnumin Lake First Nation’s request for help.”