Joint News Release – NAN Medical Health and Addictions COVID-19 Response

From Indigenous Services Canada.

Government of Canada supports Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Mental Health and Addictions Program for Northern Ontario First Nations.

July 09, 2020 — Ottawa, Traditional Algonquin Territory, Ontario — Indigenous Services Canada

Community-driven, culturally appropriate and timely mental health supports are critical to promote the well-being for anyone struggling to cope with the added stress and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic has created. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for counselling and mental wellness support was already trending upward and innovative solutions are particularly needed now.

Today, the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, announced $2,657,560 to support the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Mental Health and Addictions Pandemic Response Program, a unique First Nation-led initiative responding to the specific health needs of community members in northern Ontario. It will identify the mental health and wellness services that are already available, and bridge the existing gaps so that every individual can have access to culturally safe and community based mental health services when needed.

Building upon federal investments made since 2017 in mental wellness, including Mental Wellness Teams and the Choose Life Initiative, this initiative will coordinate the services from the different regional providers, and offer a simple process for individuals using their services.

Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) eHealth and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) will run the program, which is designed to provide community members with equal access to high-quality, culturally safe substance use treatment and mental health services with direct input from communities. The services will be coordinated, delivered and promoted by the Regional Health Authorities, Tribal Councils, and community organizations within the NAN region, and will offer access to 24/7 culturally appropriate crisis supports, triage and live service navigation, improved usage of tele-mental health supports, and will help eliminate duplication in existing mental health and problematic substance use services.

This community-driven initiative is grounded in community leadership and First Nations approaches to Mental Health services. It will provide better coordination of existing care and play a central role in ensuring better access to tailored, and high-quality mental health and substance use services across 49 First Nation communities in Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory.


“COVID-19 has affected nearly every facet of day-to-day life, and in particular the lives of people in remote and isolated parts of the country. First Nations communities and organizations such as NAN, KO and SLFNHA worked tirelessly and with great leadership to address the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on the mental health of the peoples they represent. Their actions are saving lives. We will continue to support and work collaboratively with these partners on this First Nations-led and distinctions-based approach to meeting the specific health needs of their communities and members.”

The Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services

“Our First Nations are taking extraordinary measures to keep safe, and many community members are experiencing heightened feelings of isolation and uncertainty, which has understandably resulted in increased levels of anxiety and depression. Without proper supports, people in these circumstances often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, and we need to ensure they receive the support they require. This innovative program sets out pathways to access mental health and addiction services and incorporates 24/7 rapid-access emergency and crisis support for members on and off reserve. I congratulate everyone involved in its development, and I thank the government for their quick action to fund these much-needed services.”

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler
Nishnawbe Aski Nation

“SLFNHA greatly appreciates the focus on mental health and addictions at a time when there is increased difficulty accessing services because of COVID-19, this will help some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

Dr. John Guilfoyle
Public Health Physician for Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority

“Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) eHealth Telemedicine Services and KNet is pleased to be a partner with the NAN Mental Health and Addictions Initiative along with our partners, the Ontario Health-Ontario Telemedicine Network and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. We strive to provide quality health services utilizing video-conferencing. From the beginning of the KO telemedicine initiatives, the main goal has been to provide access to services for First Nations that otherwise would not be available in the communities. We believe this project will alleviate stress and anxiety for youth and other vulnerable populations during this challenging time.”

William Hutchison
A/Executive Director for Keewaytinook Okimakanak

Quick Facts

  • Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is providing $2,657,560 to support the NAN Mental Health and Addictions Pandemic Response Program – Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) ehealth will receive $1,666,185 of this amount and the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority will receive $991,375 of this amount to run their components of the program.
  • Since 2017, the Government of Canada has invested close to $202 million in NAN First Nations communities through Choose Life, which has supported more than 22,000 First Nations children and youth. Choose Life funds enhanced mental health and crisis counselling support, peer support programs, art and recreational therapy, school-based support programs, mental health promotion and prevention training and education.
  • Since 2017, the Government of Canada has invested $16,625,000 in mental wellness teams in Ontario, of which $6,125,000 was invested to support NAN First Nations communities.
  • To date, the Government of Canada has made $1.7 billion in distinctions based funding available to Indigenous peoples to support their efforts to successfully battle COVID-19, notably, a $305 million distinctions based Indigenous community support fund.

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