By Chelsea Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has launched its new Mobile Crisis Response Team, a project designed to support First Nations experiencing crises in their communities.
“This is a 24-hour support system . It’s 24-7 prevention, crisis response and continuation of care,” said Southern Chiefs’
Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. “We’ve got a very knowledgeable team with hundreds of years combined experience in the mental health field.”
The Mobile Crisis Response Team includes qualified staff who are trained in trauma-informed practices and can offer crisis response, intervention and care co-ordination services to ensure a care plan is in place when southern First Nations are in need. The 24-hour support team also includes elders and knowledge keepers to ensure cultural resources are available.
The team will work within the model of the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum, a national First Nation-developed framework designed to holistically support mental wellness and identify ways to enhance co-ordination among various systems and supports to ensure the culturally-safe delivery of services.
“I think our First Nation communities have been in a state of crisis for a very long time as a result of decades of poverty,”
First Nations have seen a high number of suicides over the years _ a result of an ongoing mental health and poverty crisis, he said.
Daniels added the feelings of hopelessness and depression many people experience have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several factors led chiefs to call on SCO to provide a resource that could support communities experiencing trauma and crises.
The organization had a mandate to create a crisis team before the start of the pandemic. Daniels noted Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. had established a mobile crisis team, and the SCO was looking to bring the same opportunities to First Nations in southern Manitoba.
“There’s an Indigenous psychology here that has been lacking for many, many years, the psychology that comes from the stories of our ancestors,” Daniels said. It gives guidance on how to frame and understand Indigenous identity. “The Indigenous identity has been framed by the western world and the western value system which hasn’t really helped much with individuals who are experiencing crisis situations and feel devalued by society.”
Indigenous populations experience high incarceration rates, police violence and other systemic issues, Daniels said, and there is a need to refocus on the positive experiences by remembering, honouring and celebrating the integrity of Indigenous culture and identity.
The Mobile Crisis Response Team includes about 10 staff who will produce a series of supports and resources including crisis intervention, psychological assessments, consultations and support, mental health education, coping strategies, preventive techniques and consulting on grief and loss.
They will also serve as liaisons to refer those using their services to different community or regional resources and supports available.
“It’s a lot of that real groundwork that helps people deal with the crisis that they are experiencing.”
A critical aspect of the team is that it includes people with lived experience who will be able to relate to those seeking help.
Daniels said staff can better connect and speak with people on an emotional and spiritual level because they have shared experiences and can pass on the coping mechanisms they have learned and practised in times of crisis.
“That gives them some relief, some reprise to those who are suffering in the moment,” Daniels said. “It’s having someone to lean on who understands, because many times people feel isolated like no one understands them. That’s a big part of hopelessness, a big part of the depression that people experience.”
The team will look at the number of intakes and followups that take place to better understand the impact it is having in communities. This data will provide a sense of what people are experiencing and where they are experiencing improved wellness.
“It’s a case-by-case basis for us. Absolutely, we use our traditional methods for measuring success, but we also use some of the western techniques in that we want to use best practices,”
Daniels said. “That’s really been the traditional approach of Indigenous peoples. Many people need to understand that Indigenous traditions and medicines are based on a science-lived experience it’s learned fact.”
The newly formed Mobile Crisis Response Team will first be deployed to the area where it can have the biggest impact based on those who need the most support. They have been looking at where resources can be targeted, but also aiding in the development of resources in communities, especially big communities that experience large-scale crises and trauma daily or weekly.
“We can try to meet the challenge and be there to support it,” Daniels said. “That’s a big part of what the team does.”
Chelsea Kemp is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the BRANDON SUN . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada