Wunnumin Lake Leaders Call for Assistance Following Tragedies in Remote Community

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox supports a plea for assistance issued today by Wunnumin Lake First Nation Chief Sam Mamakwa following a series of tragedies in the remote community.

“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 Chief Sam Mamakwa during a press conference 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.”

Wunnumin Lake Chief and Council are appealing to the provincial and federal governments for immediate intervention and support following the sudden deaths of three community members over a 36-hour period.

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.

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 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.

Wunnumin Lake First Nation is an Oji-Cree community located approximately 360 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, accessible only by air and seasonal winter roads.

The press conference can be viewed at: www.Facebook.com/nishnawbeaskination

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790
mheintzman@nan.ca