By Lethbridge Herald on January 3, 2024.
Theodora MacLeod – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chief of Piikani Nation Troy Knowlton, and his council have officially issued a state of emergency for the reserve, located west of Lethbridge, near the town of Pincher Creek.
It comes as drug related overdoses continue to plague the community.
“In the last week, we have seen several deaths. These deaths will be marked with sorrow throughout the nation,” said Knowlton in a statement released on Wednesday.
“The situation affecting our nation is not unique to us. Drugs, especially opioids and fentanyl, may prove to be the public policy challenge of the century, affecting every community from coast to coast.”
From Jan. 2016 to June 2023, there were “40,642 apparent opioid toxicity deaths” across the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 3,970 of those deaths occurred between January and June 2023, averaging 22 deaths per day.
Alberta is among the provinces most impacted with 1,411 opioid drug related poisoning deaths reported in the first eight months of 2023. Of Alberta’s city’s, Lethbridge ranks the highest for opioid related deaths per 100,000 people.
“It is my goal, and the goal of my council, to bring an end to or at least significantly reduce the availability of drugs and to prevent deaths among those who have had their lives ensnared by drugs,” Knowlton declared. Enacting the federal Emergencies Act section 17(1), Piikani Nation says measures will be taken to combat the issue, such as drug prevention initiatives, additional supports to agencies helping to address drug use and its side-effects, and improvements to emergency treatment.
Additionally, Chief and council say they will be working closely with local RCMP to address supply sources, especially drug traffickers and gangs.
Knowlton assures residents that all acts under the state of emergency will be in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will be “carefully monitored to limit any impact on the rights of law-abiding Piikani citizens.”
“In a tight-knit community like ours, the impacts of drugs, especially addiction and tragically death, particularly among our youth, reverberate pain throughout our entire nation,” Knowlton said. “This is a long-term and complicated issue. But we believe the way to start mediating the problem is to start now. We have done that. My personal sympathies go out to the families of the youth who have been taken from us. They can be assured, however, that we will offer more than sympathy. We are acting.”