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Kwakiutl council speaks out after unprecedented losses of Indigenous lives in the North Island

‘We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends grieving for their loved ones…’
Kwakiutl First Nation band council photo

The Kwakiutl First Nation Band Council is standing with the Gwa’sala-‘Naxwaxda’xw Nations, Quatsino First Nation, and the District of Port Hardy.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends grieving for their loved ones as well as to the community members in the North Island,” stated the Kwakiutl council in a news release. “The escalation in the number of deaths in the past two months has catapulted us into a constant state of trauma and fear. We know that we must collectively explore every avenue to provide supports, programs and services for our vulnerable community members.”

According to the release, the issues are complex and the response must be “informed, comprehensive and consistent, rooted in Kwakwaka’wakw traditional ways and guided by professionals in multiple sectors.”

Kwakiutl council noted it is responding to “calls-to-action from concerned and grieving community members and we are taking a leadership role in this crisis and collaborating with our neighbouring tribes. Our health director and addictions and recovery worker collaborate daily with a core group from each First Nations community as well as professionals in the fields of health, substance use, and mental health. Our Hereditary Chiefs, Noble Women, Matriarchs and traditional Knowledge Keepers remain present to guide us and offer their wisdom and support.”

Alex Wilson, councillor for the Kwakiutl First Nation, weighed in on the issue, stating he feels that, “In terms of media coverage, we are asking for consideration from people giving interviews about this crisis. There have been years of community-grounded work, as well as peer reviewed work occurring with all our health partners in Indigenous health. Our health professionals wish to be spending their time constructively and directly supporting members, not refuting false information.”

The release then stated that the Kwakiutl council, as with the other local First Nations, is “exploring mechanisms for making our village safe for our members and continuing to strive for increased and purposeful support focused on health and wellness. These tragic circumstances call upon us to further review our internal by-laws, The Indian Act, and public safety laws to assess how they can collectively drive change and create positive impact in our communities.

“We are mindful in our actions and in our words to ensure it does not result in harms to families, or unintended consequences for community.”

The Kwakiutl Health Centre is connected with the health centres in neighbouring communities, and they are “collaborating to take an increasingly unified approach in supporting the health and safety of all our members. The protection of members and engagement within community remains the number one priority for the traditional and elected leaders from each community.

“This is a community led response and we are thankful to First Nations Health Authority and Island Health for respecting that public comment about this crisis and our response will be led by the First Nation communities in Port Hardy. Public commentary from other organizations or individuals should not be considered as reflective of the opinions of the Nations.”

“We have generations of people who have been impacted by colonialism and related harms,” stated Kwakiutl elected Chief Councillor Verna Hunt. “The toxic drug crisis, the lasting impacts of social isolation we suffered through COVID 19 when we couldn’t gather and experience culture and connection have played a role. The Gig̱a̱g̱ame’ and U’ma (hereditary chiefs and matriarchs) are calling for an upwelling of community and culture, and we are answering that call.”

“We are in a time of crisis and collectively experiencing the effects of trauma,” states the news release. “Feelings of hope will grow if we stand together as one and remain diligent to enact changes that will improve the realities our people face and heal the effects of intergenerational trauma and oppression.

“We must collectively work towards addressing the issues of homelessness, poverty, substance use, and mental illness and continue to make prevention and awareness a priority. Our traditional values of love, unity, and caring for one another will guide each and every one of us and provide the strength we need to address this crisis.”

Black Press Media Staff

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