Last month, Canada was shaken by the revelation of the burial site at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. More burial sites have been found at other residential schools across Canada, and it is anticipated there will be more to come.
The horror of residential schools is not new. This trauma has been impacting Indigenous peoples for generations – including in Alberta. It is estimated 150,000 First Nations and Métis children attended the 25 residential schools that operated in our province between 1862 and 1975.
The mental health impact of the trauma associated with residential schools is far reaching. It is impacting not only direct survivors, but also their families and descendants.
The Government of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health and Cultural Support Program provides mental health as well as emotional and cultural support services to eligible survivors and their families through all phases of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. Contact the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Alberta Region, at 1-888-495-6588 for more information.
The 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has also been set up to provide support to former residential school students. Individuals can call 1-866-925-4419 to access emotional and crisis referral services. Individuals can also access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310, or connect to the online chat through their website.
Here in Alberta, we are committed to supporting Indigenous peoples and communities by establishing a continuum of addiction and mental health services. This includes making sure services are not disrupted by jurisdictional disputes, and increasing access to services. We understand the need for mental health supports that recognize and incorporate the rich culture and traditions of Indigenous peoples. Whenever possible, we are partnering with Indigenous communities and organizations that know best what their people need. This includes increasing the number of publicly funded addiction and mental health treatment spaces operated by Indigenous communities and organizations.
Alberta’s government has provided $25 million for the Mental Health and Addiction COVID-19 Community Funding grant program, with more than $5 million allocated to First Nations and Metis communities and organizations that serve Indigenous peoples. Funding is being used for supports and services such as peer support workers, in-person and virtual counselling, traditional ceremonies such as sharing circles, outreach supports, treatment programs and workshops, and more.
Alberta’s government also supports initiatives such as the Honouring Life: Indigenous Youth Suicide Prevention – Aboriginal Youth Communities and Empowerment Strategy to help promote mental health, resiliency and overall heathy lifestyles among Indigenous youth.
Help is available. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health challenges due to trauma, the pandemic or other causes, please reach out. You are not alone and do not need to suffer in silence.
My hope is that we can heal as a nation and that all our friends, neighbours and loved ones – regardless of race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation – will have a bright future with limitless opportunities.
The Mental Health Help Line (1-877-303-2642) is a 24 hour, 7 day a week confidential service that provides support, information and referrals to Albertans experiencing mental health concerns. Visit alberta.ca/mentalhealth.
Please visit the Alberta Health Services website for Indigenous health information, including the Indigenous Health Program, now called Indigenous Wellness Core, and COVID-19 for Indigenous Peoples and Communities. The Alberta Indigenous Virtual Care Clinic provides virtual access to doctors.
Jason Luan served as the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions from April 30, 2019 to July 7, 2021.