"Our young people need hope and inspiration. They don't see that right now. We've got to make those key strategic interventions now. It's a life-and-death situation."—Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Chief Bellegarde was quoted in this article about the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario, Canada, declaring a state of emergency after 11 people tried to take their own lives in a single night.
Chief Bruce Shisheesh and council declared a state of emergency on Saturday. The designation has meant that a Nishnawbe Aski Nation crisis response unit is being sent to the community. The federal and Ontario health ministers said the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority hospital was immediately flying in a crisis team, including mental health nurses and social workers. Meanwhile, Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he has offered Chief Shisheesh his support and is pressing for long-term help for the community in addition to immediate action, adding that the crisis is a "national tragedy."I feel extremely impotent to do anything impactful or say anything meaningful. I take up space in solidarity with First Peoples, in Canada and the US, and I hear you.
...Previous studies have suggested suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the leading causes of death among First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. Waves of suicides like the one in Attawapiskat are not new, but several others in recent months have gained renewed attention – such as a string of deaths in northern Manitoba's Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, which has also declared a state of emergency.
...Problems with suicide on reserve can be more acute, though, due to challenges of distance and availability of mental-health services. Charlie Angus, the MP for the Attawapiskat area and NDP indigenous affairs critic, said northern communities aren't given the resources to deal with complicated grief. "When a young person tries to commit suicide in any suburban school, they send in the resources, they send in the emergency team. There's a standard protocol for response. The northern communities are left on their own," he said. "We don't have the mental health service dollars. We don't have the resources."
Conditions on reserves lag behind those in the rest of Canada in more respects than just suicide and health: Unemployment, lack of access to education, and substandard infrastructure are factors too. ...Studies have pointed to economic hardships and the legacy of colonialism as key factors in high indigenous suicide rates.
...Youth from Attawapiskat and neighbouring communities held a healing walk last week to create awareness of the current suicide crisis, Jackie Hookimaw told The Canadian Press. "They said, 'We will not give up, because our youth are killing themselves …We will not be defeated.'"
[H/T to Aphra_Behn.]