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Drug and alcohol deaths spark North Island First Nations state of emergency

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations near Port Hardy concerned after 11 deaths in just 2 months
Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations photo

Eleven deaths in just two months have led to a declaration of a state of emergency for a North Island First nation.

The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations (GNN) near Port Hardy made the situation public via a since-removed social media post, citing an unprecedented number of deaths, mostly linked to drug and alcohol use.

According to the release, the deaths have rocked the 1,100-member community, with the latest person claimed being just 16-years-old.

“The damage from drugs and alcohol and the loss of so many precious lives have reached an urgent level,” said GNN’s Elected Chief Terry Walkus via the news release. “The RCMP have been reluctant to work with GNN in enforcing our bylaws and council resolutions to restrict or remove drug dealers. We need to take all necessary measures to protect our families and nurture our children.”

The First Nation removed the release shortly after it was posted, calling it an “internal document” meant only to be shared with Ottawa stakeholders.

In a follow-up statement, it apologized for its initial release connecting the state of emergency with ongoing efforts to lobby Ottawa over aquaculture, saying that was never it’s intention.

Read the full statement below.

In 1964, the federal government forcibly relocated the two Nations from ancestral homes on the B.C. mainland and amalgamated them on the Tsulquate Reserve, on the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nation. GNN houses and totems were burnt to the ground by the federal government so no one would be able to leave Tsulquate and return home.

In its initial release, GNN Elders described a “20-year dark-period of severe overcrowding and rampant disease” on their new barren settlement before GNN “gradually built a lucrative finfish operation that became their bridge from poverty to prosperity.”

Cyrus Singh, CEO of the K’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, which guides economic growth for GNN, stated that a vibrant aquaculture business and self-government is critical if the community is to provide wellness services to properly support families in need and ensure future prosperity.

“Abruptly closing our farms would be devastating,” said Singh, who is currently in Ottawa with Walkus and other GNN delegates to discuss important issues with the federal government.

“A nine-year license renewal will allow us to invest in technology, conduct research, and partner with the government to implement best practices and co-manage the industry. This aligns with our ongoing treaty negotiations with Ottawa and B.C.”


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