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Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Saskatoon Wednesday. (Anne Robillard) Northern Saskatchewan residents are hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will champion their drive for a $21-million mental health centre in La Ronge.

Advocates say the centre is key to attacking the mental health and addictions crisis plaguing the north.

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson made her pitch directly to Trudeau Wednesday during the first day of the Liberal caucus retreat in Saskatoon. Cook-Searson said she’s confident he’ll help.

"We need this — it’s a desperate situation," Cook-Searson said in an interview following her meeting with Trudeau.

The facility would host six groups of 10 people per year for intensive mental health or addiction treatment. Youth are most in need, so the first groups admitted would be in their early teens, she said.

The centre would also include outpatient health and cultural services, a swimming pool and sweat lodge.

She said vulnerable northern and Indigenous residents will benefit from having culturally appropriate services in their home region.

The band is committing more than $2 million plus serviced land for the project.

Cook-Searson hopes to secure the rest from a fundraising campaign as well as the federal and provincial governments. She said the project can start as soon as the money is in place and it could open as early as 2021.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty also met with Trudeau Wednesday. He expressed support for the La Ronge plan. Peter Ballantyne members could also benefit from the centre. Beatty said he hopes the government will help fund a better health centre in his community.

Beatty said Trudeau "is a very busy man. We’ve been pushing for this for a number of years. Hopefully it does resonate with him and he remembers."

No one from Indigenous Services Canada could be reached Wednesday afternoon.

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