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Cat Lake First Nation gets $75,000 grant to improve children's mental health

The community declared a state of emergency due to poor housing conditions and health issues.

CAT LAKE FIRST NATION, Ont. — The multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has partnered with Save the Children to fund a new program to help children on the Cat Lake First Nation.

In an announcement Thursday coinciding with World Mental Health Day, GSK said it is granting $75,000 to Save the Children to aid Indigenous children affected by ongoing housing and health challenges in the First Nation 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

The money will support art-based activities as an outlet for children to deal with distress they have endured.

According to the announcement, the one-year program will create "safe spaces for children and youth to express their pain through art. Save The Children will implement evidence-based research and evaluate the program once it is complete to deepen understanding around art-based childhood and youth mental health interventions."

In March of this year, Indigenous Services Canada and Cat Lake's leadership signed an agreement to repair or replace houses in the remote community at a cost of nearly $13 million.

Cat Lake had declared a state of emergency two months earlier, saying 87 of 128 homes required demolition due to black mould and other issues that had caused skin rashes and respiratory problems for residents including children.

The government subsequently also agreed to increase the number of nurses assigned to the community of about 700 people.

Cat Lake officials said continual squabbling between the Ontario and federal governments had led to inequitable access to health care.

"Many of the mental health challenges we're facing now stem from the residential school system," Cat Lake head councillor Derek Spence said in Thursday's announcement.

Bill Chambers, CEO of Save the Children said mental health is the First Nation's main concern.

"By providing culturally-safe, art-based mental health support to children impacted by this crisis, we can help mitigate against negative long-term effects," he said.

Chambers added that the new program will also add to understanding the mental health concerns that stem from the legacy of the residential school system.