SIOUX LOOKOUT, Ont. – Town council in Sioux Lookout are pleading with senior levels of government, along with the municipality and First Nations leadership, to address what they’ve termed a crisis in mental health, addictions and homelessness in the Northern Ontario community.
The call to action came in the wake of a widely publicized arrest of an Indigenous girl by the Ontario Provincial Police, a witness who filmed the arrest telling the Sioux Lookout Bulletin that she’d never seen that type of force used against a teenager.
In a release issued on Monday, council said the community has had a long history of relations with Indigenous peoples and that the arrest could create a focal point for positive change.
“We are proposing that a task force be formed through a process similar to the four-party agreement. The parties could include (the) Municipality of Sioux Lookout, First Nations (as represented by Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Grand Council Treaty 3), federal and provincial governments,” said Mayor Doug Lawrance in the release.
“The initial purpose of the task force will be to collaboratively set up a working group, a process, to address the impacts of social, mental health and addictions, and homelessness issues facing Sioux Lookout.”
Lawrance said the municipality is committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue and said the discussion must happen face-to-face and not through the media and social media.
“The finger of blame must stop and we must all engage in a process of renewed relations for the betterment of all,” he said.
Sioux Lookout in the past has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the issues facing the Northern Ontario community, including working with the OPP to create a situation table, forming a municipal committee on truth and reconciliation, helping to form a Bear Clan and Youth Bear Clan and advocating for housing, programs and services, to name just a few.
“As a community, we are faced with complex and varied challenges as a direct and consequential result of colonialism and historic trauma,” Lawrance said.
“Many Indigenous peoples of the area and region have been impacted by failed government policies and the colonial mindset: dislocation from traditional territory, encroachment on traditional lands; and the failure of assimilation policies such as Indian residential schools and Sixties Scoop.”
Lawrance went on to say that the intergenerational trauma faced by Indigenous people has undeniably impacted Sioux Lookout.
“We see and acknowledge the tragic realities of the social and health conditions of those adversely impacted on a daily basis: in the shelter, at the hospital, at various places of refuge, on the streets, and in policing and land ambulance statistics,” Lawrance said.
“The impacts and effects of the ongoing historic trauma is an ongoing and growing crisis for both those impacted and the overall community. Municipal Council continues to be committed in a proactive manner to address the ongoing crisis.”