STANDOFF, ALBERTA — A First Nation in southern Alberta says an increase in drug use and overdose deaths has forced it to act in what it calls a life-and-death battle.
"We are all aware of the increase in overdoses and deaths amongst our people resulting in the use of opioids and other harmful drugs and we need to make the necessary decisions to reduce the harm that we are experiencing," said Blood Tribe Chief Roy Fox said after a council meeting Monday.
"We will need to focus on preventing those dangerous drugs from reaching our lands and our people."
Fox said starting immediately, the First Nation is implementing two new measures: setting up a special police team, and cleaning up and renovating many abandoned houses on the reserve of 10,000 to shut down drug operations.
It is to be funded initially with a $1.5-million provisional investment from the Blood Tribe, also known as the Kainai Nation.
Canada's largest reserve has been hit hard by an opioid epidemic that has plagued many parts of the country over the last nine years. It started with fentanyl, an opioid up to 100 times more powerful than heroin, that has been used as a painkiller for terminal cancer patients.
Despite past measures, including states of emergency and banishing several drug dealers, the problem appears to be getting worse.
The new special police force "will focus entirely on preventing the sale and misuse of drugs, and increasing the surveillance of trafficking activity on reserve lands," Fox said.
"We will use the trespass law more diligently so that outside criminal subjects can be apprehended, convicted and/or expelled from the reserve."
Fox said renovating many abandoned homes will serve a double purpose.
"Some of the abandoned homes situated primarily in the townsites are being used for illegal drug purposes and we will be renovating these houses so deserving homeless families can have adequate houses to live in," he said.
"We will begin repairing an initial amount of houses and continue to renovate as we negotiate with other governments towards additional funding."
Band Coun. Winston Day Chief said many of the abandoned homes contain drugs and weapons. Repurposing them would be a positive step.
"We're putting some money back into those abandoned homes that were affected so we can get these homeless people, those with children, back into their homes in a safe environment."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2023.
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary
The Canadian Press