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This article was published 22/5/2018 (1287 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA – After travelling 3,000 kilometres to the national capital, a group of First Nations whose communities have been ravaged by methamphetamine use are asking for federal help in beating back a crisis on reserves.
"They’ve been dying; they’ve been killing themselves. They’ve been losing their kids to the (child-welfare) system, and more kids are doing it," Maureen Wood said Tuesday.
Wood helped lead a group of roughly 40 from the fly-in Island Lake area down to Winnipeg and onward to Ottawa, crossing ice roads and highways, and often sleeping on gym floors.
They’re asking for help in reversing an uptick in meth usage, which exploded in the area after last summer’s wildfires, which caused roughly 6,500 residents to be temporarily relocated to Winnipeg. Residents said Winnipeg drug dealers offered free samples to get people hooked on meth, and smugglers have since brought it into the community.
Wood said the first few days of the trek to Ottawa gave her blisters, but her children cheered her on from nearby vehicles.
On Tuesday, the group met with the Manitoba caucus of Liberal MPs, and asked for treatment centres and more recreational spaces for young people. Chief Dino Flett of Garden Hill First Nation hopes they can convince Ottawa to help.
"They’ve gone through a lot just to get here. But it doesn’t stop here."
Wood said some MPs asked about whether a permanent road to the northern Manitoba community would help or worsen the issue, and if drug-locating sniffer dogs could help. "They said they’re going to push it forward and try to help as much as they can."
Joseph Munro of Winnipeg joined the group at North Bay, Ont. As an activist with First Nation Indigenous Warriors Inc., he said he tries to help people from northern reserves avoid being preyed on by the city’s drug dealers and gangs. "We’re such a racial city, and we want to break that stigma."
The group will meet Wednesday morning with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.
Earlier this month, Wood left the travelling group for a day when chiefs invited her to the Assembly of First Nations meeting just outside Ottawa. Wood asked Philpott to help with the meth crisis, in an emotional moment in front of hundreds of chiefs.
"People use drugs because sometimes it’s the only way they can escape the terrible pains and anguish in their lives, and we have to find a way to heal that pain," said Philpott, who was brought to tears.
Wood has some trepidation about returning home to St. Theresa Point after 55 days away. Families in her home community don’t know how to help their addicted relatives, she said.
Others described the local daycare being robbed of its microwave and computers, which they suspect was a way for the thief to pay for drugs.
"There’s no help; there’s nothing," she said.