Enoch Cree Nation west of Edmonton says its moving ahead with an addictions treatment centre after receiving $30 million from the province of Alberta.
“With this new treatment facility we have the opportunity to turn things around and reunite our spirit,” said Chief Cody Thomas of Enoch Cree Nation.
The 75-bed facility would treat up to 300 people a year and bring culturally appropriate services to the nation the chief said.
“A lot of our members and First Nations are going through the court process and this will help give them a hand up instead of a hand out, so that is the expectation of this treatment facility,” said Thomas.
Enoch Cree Nation is the second First Nation in Alberta to receive funding to build a centre. Previously $5 million dollars in funding was announced to the Kainai Blood Tribe. The funding was announced by then-Premier Jason Kenney in 2020.
Thomas told APTN News that the centre will work with Alberta Justice to house people who are going through the provincial Indigenous court, also known as Gladue courts in some jurisdictions.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who was on hand for the announcement, said construction should start soon.
“The design part can take up to six years, but the design work is done…it is a matter of signing the MOU and the construction. We will be able to proceed quickly,” said Smith.
According to the ministry of mental health and addiction the Kainai Blood Tribe centre design took about two years given the special requirements for building a culturally appropriate First Nations design.
The Enoch Cree Nation addictions treatment centre will use the basic design developed from Kainai in their centre.
Alberta’s government has also committed $75 million in capital funding for the construction of three new recovery communities in Grand Prairie, as centres in central and northern Alberta.
Smith emphasized the importance of providing accessible, effective addiction treatment services to those who need them.
Thomas told reporters that Chief and council are working to continue education for Nation members who are concerned about the effect of the drug treatment centre in their community.
“We will work closely with local officials and nations members to make sure that the facility is well managed,” said Thomas.
Forced treatment for addictions
Smith also fielded questions of her government’s controversial plans for forced addiction treatment at the event.
Government documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access-to-information request suggest the potential change in Alberta expand the ability of police, family members, or legal guardians of drug users rights to refer adults and youth to involuntary treatment if they pose risks to themselves or others.
“We think that this is the most compassionate way to try to address this problem because we’re watching people slowly killing themselves on the street and we’ve got to draw a line and say we’re just not going to let that happen anymore,” said Smith.
Smith said at the announcement there is an obligation to help people overdosing on drugs multiple times a day.
“The notion behind it is a last resort,” said Smith, adding “the whole point of it is not to cause harm. It is to save lives.”
Smith added the government isn’t yet done consulting on its Compassionate Care Act which could change the law in order to place people into treatment without their consent.
Chief Cody Thomas of Enoch Cree Nation said that his community has seen people experiencing “psychosis” from drug use and he is in favour of involuntary treatment “to some extent.”
“You can’t just allow people to keep filling themselves with drugs…you have to given them a glimmer of hope,” said Thomas.