OTTAWA – The federal government may struggle to keep up with a growing need for mental-health and other social services in First Nations communities located within a massive mineral find in northern Ontario, according to a newly released document.
Senior officials at Health Canada were cautioned last May that their existing social programs to help aboriginal communities in the Ring of Fire may not be sufficient to meet increased demand.
“Though supports are available, it is not clear whether current programming will be sufficient to meet emerging needs,” says a memo to the deputy and associate deputy ministers.
The Neskantaga First Nation declared a state of emergency last April over a spate of suicides — and the officials were warned Ottawa could face heightened pressure to provide similar support services to other communities as the area undergoes further development.
“Other communities located adjacent to the Ring of Fire development may have similar complex needs, and the increased activity in this region may place additional pressure upon the federal government for further action,” the document says.
The Canadian Press obtained the memo under the Access to Information Act.
Several federal departments are working with local First Nations and the Ontario government on community health, social services and skills training. Health Canada has funded projects in nine First Nations communities to try to curb prescription drug abuse. There’s also work underway to address mental-health issues and prevent suicides.
Addressing these social problems is necessary if First Nations are going to be involved in the Ring of Fire project, the document says.
“Physical and mental health are determinants for job and economic readiness,” it says.
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