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Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers and NDP Leader Kate White

MLAs assess First Nation’s emergency declaration

Yukon government and opposition representatives weighed in on the state of emergency declared by the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun (FNNND) on Tuesday.

By Morris Prokop on March 16, 2023

Yukon government and opposition representatives weighed in on the state of emergency declared by the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun (FNNND) on Tuesday.

The FNNND declared it following last Saturday’s shooting deaths of two Whitehorse men in Mayo.

Mayo Mayor Trevor Ellis told the Star Tuesday the general assumption in the community is that the deaths are drug-related.

In their state of emergency declaration, the First Nation said it is “dealing with an opioid emergency that is terrorizing the public in Mayo, including FNNND citizens and families, with violence, crime, overdoses and death, and this emergency must be addressed immediately in order to protect the lives of FNNND citizens, ensure public safety and promote community wellness.”

The declaration further stated, “The council must act now and work with the Yukon government, RCMP and Village of Mayo to address this opioid emergency, in a co-ordinated manner, before other FNNND citizens are lost to this emergency.”

The declaration says an action plan is required and may include the following measures:

• an increased law enforcement presence within the FNNND traditional territory;

• a requirement for all non-FNNND citizens, except for representatives of the FNNND, Yukon government and RCMP, to vacate FNNND settlement lands between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m .and register with the FNNND before entering FNNND settlement land at any time;

• the establishment of check-stops on all roads entering Mayo or C-6 to disrupt, interrupt and stop opioid distribution;

• the eviction of tenants in NND housing units who are engaged in illegal activities or supporting such activities or persons involved in opioid distribution;

• the establishment of an integrated team of senior representatives of the FNNND, Yukon government, RCMP and Village of Mayo to oversee the implementation of the Action Plan and, where appropriate, make suggestions for its effective and efficient implementation;

• the establishment of proactive action to warn and protect people who use drugs;

• the availability of treatment opportunities for FNNND citizens; and

• other appropriate steps and measures.

Following question period Wednesday, Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers told reporters the responses to his earlier queries from Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and Premier Ranj Pillai “left a lot to be desired.

“In the area of the substance use health emergency that the government declared last year, we’ve seen what we view as a real lack of action on prevention, treatment and enforcement, including the lack of action in creating new addictions treatment spaces.

“It’s just last April that the chief superintendent of the RCMP (Scott Sheppard) noted that they had yet to see a single new frontline officer position since the Liberal government had taken office.”

Cathers said the First Nation’s declaration of an opioid emergency in the area is clearly a call for more action by government, and that the village of Mayo and the NND council are also calling for more action.

“That should include both expanding the addictions treatment services that are available to people in the area as well as increasing enforcement by providing more RCMP resources in the Mayo area,” Cathers said.

“We would like to see the Yukon government working with the First Nation, with the village of Mayo and with the RCMP on how to respond to all parts of this crisis in the area.”

Asked about the effectiveness of a mental health services hub in Dawson City, Cathers stated, “Dawson City is not in Mayo. It’s a long ways away when there’s a crisis in a community.”

He recalled that the 2021 resignation of then-Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton from the Liberal caucus two years ago was “over a lack of action in dealing with the substance abuse crisis within his riding, that he also felt that this Liberal government had not taken sufficient action for a number of years in responding to the crisis that was developing.”

Cathers added there needs to be more focus on prevention, addictions treatment, and “more focused enforcement targeting the drug dealers who are responsible for selling these illegal and often toxic drugs among communities.

“The number one goal of any substance abuse action plan should be trying to help as many people as possible become free of their addictions and live healthy lives. And that is the area I would say the government is most deficient.”

McPhee told reporters the declaration is “an important statement by Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation and by the community of Mayo.

“We have absolutely complete support for supporting the community of Mayo. We have been working to do so,” she said.

“We have been working with the Department of Health and Social Services, as well as the Department of Justice to co-ordinate supports for that community.”

McPhee said the emergency declaration “must be respected. It is a reaction, presumably to the concerns that they’ve had for many months, about violence and crime and overdoses and the impacts of death, including drugs and alcohol, in their community.

“We’ve been working with them. We will continue to work with them and are absolutely dedicated to that,” added McPhee, who is also the Justice minister.

“When these incidents came to light on Saturday, the premier was immediately on the phone with the chief of Nacho Nyak Dun, with the mayor of Mayo and pledging support for the community and whatever they needed both in the immediate and short, medium and long term.”

Regarding mental health support for Mayo, McPhee said they “knew that we had support on the ground in Mayo if there were community members that needed it.

“We also mobilized a team of emergency support folks to go if necessary. I understand they were not called to go but they remain available to the community.”

The government “will be at the table to speak to Nacho Nyak Dun and the community of Mayo to determine how to best give life to their stated objectives in the declaration,” she added.

Speaking to the Star this morning, NDP Leader Kate White called the situation “tragic.

“What we’re unfortunately witnessing in Mayo in different capacities has been happening in that community for a number of years now, which is – this is the full effect in front of our face of what an opioid crisis looks like.”

Asked about the state of emergency, White replied, “I have the utmost respect for the (First) Nation. And right now they are trying to do the best that they can with a really challenging situation. And I’m not surprised at all that they’ve declared a state of emergency.

“The steps in the action plan are again the decisions of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and them trying to do the best that they can for their citizens, and I absolutely respect what they’re trying to do.”

She was asked what she’d like to see done in the village.

“The feedback I have or what I’d like to see done is actually from the Yukon government side,” she said.

“So Mayo needs more support than just one full-time counsellor, and that counsellor is incredible, but I can’t imagine the weight of the load that they’re carrying right now.

“The minister talks about the (Dawson) hub. I have lots of challenges and criticisms of the hub, understanding still that they have, you know, at times improved service, but right now Mayo needs …they’ve asked for more support.

“They’ve asked for additional counselling, and really, the best folks to decide what it is that Mayo needs right now are the citizens of Mayo.”

Regarding more RCMP enforcement in the community, White said, “If asking for additional enforcement means that the RCMP need to come back to Yukon Government to ask for additional resources, then I expect that conversation to happen.

“Our hearts are breaking for the heart of Mayo. There’s nothing but, like, sadness and sorrow.

“And I know that that community is resilient and they’re strong, and that they’ll get through it, but it’s just a tough road,” the NDP leader said.

Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn has not responded to the Star’s requests for an interview about the declaration.

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