Indigenous Emergency: 11 Suicide Attempts in One Day

Ontario's Attawapiskat First Nation declares state of emergency, pleads for help
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2016 12:44 PM CDT
Indigenous Emergency: 11 Suicide Attempts in One Day
A community begging for help.   (Twitter)

A "suicide epidemic" that started last fall in a northern Ontario community—with 11 suicide attempts this past Saturday alone, per the CBC—has led the Attawapiskat First Nation to declare a state of emergency, per the National Post. The remote enclave of 2,000 people has reportedly experienced suicides for decades, but the latest string is so worrisome that the Attawapiskat community is pleading for help. Resident Jackie Hookimaw says the latest string of deaths was spurred by the fall suicide of her 13-year-old great-niece. Chief Bruce Shisheesh tells the CBC that 101 people between the ages of 11 and 71 have attempted suicide since September; one has died. "I'm asking friends, government, that we need help in our community," Shisheesh says. "I have relatives that have attempted to take their own lives." Members of the Attawapiskat community say citizens suffering from drug abuse, overcrowding, and bullying—as well as intense poverty, per the BBC—don't receive enough government help.

"When a young person tries to commit suicide in any suburban school, they send in the resources, they send in the emergency team," the area's MP tells the Post, calling the problem a "rolling nightmare" often left to untrained teachers, cops, and parents to handle. "The northern communities are left on their own." There are four health-care workers, but they lack training and are "burned out" and "backlogged," says the deputy grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, representing eight Ontario First Nations. On Sunday, federal and Ontario health officials said a crisis team of mental health nurses and social workers, as well as an emergency medical team, was being sent ASAP. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau lent his own moral support Sunday, tweeting, "The news from Attawapiskat is heartbreaking. We'll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples." (The Globe and Mail offers further context.)

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