“My people are in mental distress”: Governor General Mary Simon visits a Yukon community affected by drug-related deaths
Governor General Mary Simon’s three-day visit to the Yukon began Sunday at the Haa Shagóon Hídi Cultural Center of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.
Simon — who visits the territory with the goal of strengthening relationships while focusing on reconciliation, mental health and the opioid crisis — spoke with Yukon First Nations elders, youth and leaders about challenges the community has recently faced with mental health and addictions. – related deaths.
« It’s really important for me to connect with the indigenous communities, » said Simon, who wants to address both the challenges and the positive remarks in the communities.
Earlier this year, Carcross/Tagish First Nation declared a state of emergency following drug-related deaths in the community. Shortly thereafter, the territory declared a similar emergency.
In 2021, Yukon had a rate of 53.5 per 100,000 population of total opioid poisoning deathaccording to federal statistics.
Simon said she’s heard similar scenarios from communities across Canada where mental health cases have been on the rise since the pandemic began.
“Suicide rates continue to be very high in different parts of the Arctic. It indicates that my people are in mental distress,” she said, citing various factors such as residential schools, colonization, trauma experienced in families and issues through intergenerational trauma.
She said one of the solutions to solving difficulties in communities is giving more ownership to Indigenous peoples as well as increasing mental health resources and supports.
For many, his visit outside the territory’s capital was significant.
Teslin Tlingit Council member and park ranger Gordon Reed said he had seen visits by former governors-general to the territory.
« What I see happening this time is going beyond Whitehorse. To have her here is an honor, » he said.
Reed said the opioid crisis is hitting close to home, but having Simon talk about it gives him hope.
« We’ve lost a lot. Too much. But when I hear kids talking about how many friends they’re losing and someone in a position of power and influence takes notice, I hope that, in a way, provides the support needed to talk to the right people and make a difference,” he said.
This is Simon’s first official visit to the territory since he was sworn in in July 2021. This is part of a larger goal to visit every province and territory to engage with Canadians across the country to establish better relationships.
« We really have to understand each other’s stories. I think that’s part of the process that we engage in in terms of reconciliation, » Simon said.
Over the next two days, the Governor General will meet with elected officials such as Premier Sandy Silver, leaders of Yukon First Nations and students from Yukon University.
She will also participate in the Arctic Arts Summit, which brings together indigenous nations from the circumpolar region.
Mental health a top priority
As the country’s 30th Governor General, Simon said she wanted to focus on mental health and wellbeing.
« I think we all know that when someone has a mental health issue, they can be stigmatized, » she said during her public address at Carcross. « I think we have to change that. We have to come to terms with each of these health, physical and mental issues. »
To address this, Simon said she was advocating for an increase in mental health services.
« I think as a country we need to do better, » she said.
Aliya Grant is a member of Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the recipient of the Outstanding Youth Achievement Award presented at Sunday’s event by Yukon Commissioner Angélique Bernard.
Grant said she would like to see more support for young people from the government.
« At our potlatches, we always say kids come first. So why isn’t that happening with our mental health or our health care system? » she says.