LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tough time for many, but especially for those who were dealing with a different kind of crisis before the pandemic hit.

Moms Stop The Harm southern Alberta, in partnership with the Piikani Nation, gathered on traditional land in Brocket Sunday to remember the lives lost to the opioid crisis and to raise awareness around the ongoing problem through a ceremonial photo of them all holding pictures of a lost loved one.

Families from Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and other surrounding communities came together with members of the Piikani Nation.

It was the seventh in a series of iconic memorial photos, but the first to take place on a First Nations reserve.

The powerful statement was designed to remember loved ones lost to overdose or substance use, and raise awareness that just because the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, it doesn't mean the opioid crisis has disappeared.

"What we're doing is trying to ask governments at all levels in every community across the country and here locally, provincially and nationally to escalate the response to the opioid crisis. To meet it with the same kind of response that we're giving to COVID," MSTH team leader Lori Vrebosch said.

Moms Stop The Harm

The hope is by continuing to draw attention to the issue, lives can be saved.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose rates have risen significantly across the country. Many families want to see this ongoing health emergency be given the same attention as coronavirus because the losses haven't stopped.

According to data from the provincial government, 142 people died from apparent accidental opioid overdoses during the first three months of the year.

Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis, as First Nations people are dying from opioid poisoning at a rate three to four times higher than non-First Nations people in Alberta.

There have been six fatal overdoses on the Piikani Nation alone over the past five weeks.

"Since the COVID has been here, we're still dealing with losses," Piikani Nation COVID team member Margaret Potts said.

"We're still burying people, we're still trying to get a hold of (the answer to) how do we tackle this to make it better and to be more effective in the community?"

The Piikani Nation is just one of many Indigenous communities dealing with the intersection of the COVID crisis and the opioid crisis. Sunday's event brought together people from all different backgrounds however, to demonstrate that everyone is in this together regardless of background.

Those in attendance all agreed that they need more than words, they need to see action, and they need to see it urgently.