Wave of Suicides: the Attawapiskat Crisis


Picture obtained from The Globe and Mail

The Attawapiskat First Nation have been dealing with the suicide attempts  of youngsters from their own community. With more than 100 people trying to take their own lives in the past seven months, a state of emergency was declared after 11 people, 10 of them youth, tried to take their lives on April 9th. 

For those who don’t know, these Attawapiskat First Nation are one of the different Aboriginal Canadians spread across the country, who remain in their Indian reserve at the mouth of the James Bay’s Attawapiskat River, 600 miles north of Ottawa, Canada. But suicides aren’t  the only tragedy hitting the Attawapiskat First Nation. An isolated region where people have been suffering already harsh conditions have declared several states of  emergency  through the last 10 years: health problems due to the quality of the drinking water (October 2006), homes contaminated by sewage due to lack of housing and overcrowding (July 2009), a severe housing shortage without access to running water or electricity (October 2011), sewage rising forcing people to evacuate due to poor infrastructures (April 2013). Along with the recent state of emergency declared because of the high rate of suicides.

The LHIN (Northwest Local Health Integration Network) reported in 2010 the suicide rate for some First Nation is 50 times higher than the Canadian average for children under 15.

This wave of suicidal attempts may have root in several issues. Isolation, drinking and alcohol problems, over-crowded families living in substandard houses, even bullying at school, often feeling left aside by the government. Davyn Calfchild, chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy from the Siksika Nation in Alberta asked for permanent solutions, claiming that the Attawapiskat doesn’t receive enough help from the government:   “People need traditional healing, ceremonies, their elders – and [Indigenous Affairs] needs to start taking responsibility.” He said that if people attempted suicide at the same rate in Toronto, there would be a groundswell of support and resources.

Racism may be another of the causes of youth committing suicide. Rebecca Hookimaw, whose little sister took her own life. “People are treating us like we’re nothing. We’re not different from everybody. We’re all human,” she says. “If we were like white or whatever, they’d help us out right away, but we’re native.”

Regarding these suicides, Bill Yoachim, member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver, stated that in his community, located in an urban centre, unlike the isolation of the Attawapiskat, had also suffered clusters of suicides. This issue, however, was well addressed by the community, who offered sports programs, as an integration measure, and a program to revive the traditional Snuneymuxw culture between the youth. 


Ultimately, what these people need aren’t solutions, they already know what those are. North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak says “We don’t need people to come into our communities and tell us what the solutions are, we have them,”


“We just need partners to help make them a reality.” 


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