By Ashley Joannou
A small Yukon First Nation says it’s dealing with an “opioid emergency” that is terrorizing citizens and families with violence, crime, overdoses and death.
The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun in Mayo, 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse, declared a state of emergency Thursday and called for a meeting with the Yukon government, the RCMP and the Village of Mayo to develop an action plan to protect its members.
The declaration says the “emergency must be addressed immediately in order to protect the lives of (its) citizens, ensure public safety and promote community wellness.”
It says the action plan could include increased law enforcement within its territory, limiting when non-citizens can be on settlement land, check stops, or the eviction of tenants in First Nations housing who are engaged in illegal activities.
The plan could also include “action to warn and protect people who use drugs,” and treatment opportunities for its citizens.
The declaration comes after a double homicide on Saturday of two Whitehorse men whose bodies were found on a main roadway belonging to the First Nation.
Yukon RCMP said in a statement Monday about the deaths that police were “aware of the impact of the substance use emergency on the community of Mayo,” and were actively supporting community safety.
Mayo Mayor Trevor Ellis said he fully supports the declaration.
He said struggles over the last few years with illicit drugs in the community of 500 are not that different from larger cities but have been less out in the open, one of the reasons it “really snuck up on us and kind of got out of hand.”
“We’ve seen every aspect of it. We’ve had overdoses, we’ve had suicides, we’ve had violence,” he said, adding that the community believes the two weekend murders were drug-related.
He said people need to come together to help those who are struggling and those struggling need to understand their actions are having a severely detrimental effect on the community.
He said treatment and recovery is the ultimate goal.
“That’s the question that every community is grappling with right now. How do you achieve that treatment and recovery for lasting wellness?” he said.
“It’s going to take a number of different approaches but I think the declaration’s a start. It gets the conversation happening. It gets the resources into the community. As well it sends a strong message to the people.”
Tracy-Anne McPhee, who is both the territory’s health and justice minister, said the government has been working with the First Nation and the community since before the weekend, and a community meeting is being planned.
“We have been working through the Department of Health and Social Services, as well as the Department of Justice, to co-ordinate supports for that community,” she said.
McPhee called the emergency declaration important and said the territorial government is “absolutely dedicated” to helping.
“We 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 said.
Yukon RCMP said in an email statement issued Thursday that senior management met with Chief Simon Mervyn and the First Nation’s administration about the proposed action plan.
“Mayo Detachment and the Yukon RCMP are committed to continue working with (the First Nation), Village of Mayo and the Yukon Government to understand and work towards meeting the needs of the community in Mayo through this action plan and any other community safety initiatives,” the statement said.
The Mounties say it would be premature to comment on any role they might have in the proposed measures listed in the declaration.
They say the homicides are still under investigation and they won’t comment on potential avenues of that probe.
Nacho Nyak Dun is not the first Yukon Indigenous nation to sound alarms about drugs in their community. In January 2022, the Carcross Tagish First Nation declared a state of emergency after illicit drug-related deaths.
The Yukon declared its own substance use health emergency that same month in response to a surge in substance use-related harms, including what it called “a drastic increase in opioid-related deaths.”
Yukon chief coroner Heather Jones reported that last year, the territory had 25 deaths attributed to toxic substances, 20 of which involved opioids. The territory’s population is about 43,000.
Jones said the overdose toll puts Yukon at the top in Canada for per capita illicit drug-related deaths.
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