Health Minister Jane Philpott issued a statement today in the wake of the crisis in the community of Attawapiskat.
On April 9, 11 members of the community attempted to take their own lives all on the same day, prompting the chief and council to declare a state of emergency for the remote First Nation on James Bay. The incidents April 9 followed a dramatic spike in suicide attempts in March, when there were 28 reports of suicide attempts or expressions of suicidal thoughts among the community's young people.
“Hearing about the loss of life to suicide and the feelings of despair felt by the community of Attawapiskat affects all of us, and reminds us of how important it is to work with First Nations and Indigenous peoples across the country to address the very real challenges facing their communities,” said Philpott in a news release.
“Our government wants to assure First Nations that we are personally and directly engaged in the recent states of emergencies that have been declared. We have reached out to First Nations leadership over the past day to identify how we can work together to provide both immediate and long term help.”
The Cree community is home to about 2,000 residents and saw 28 suicide attempts in March alone.
Last September, a group of five girls overdosed and had to be medevacked out of the community.
Health Canada has dispatched two mental health counsellors to join a crisis response unit from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), Philpott said.
“Health Canada is also working with the community and the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) to coordinate our response to this crisis in the community, as well as enhance services for youth at risk," she added.
Philpott also said improving the socio-economic condition of remote First Nations communities is key to addressing the crisis on northern reserves.
"In Ontario, the federal government has worked with the province to set up a joint action table, so that federal and provincial governments can work together, hand in hand with First Nations leadership, to find concrete solutions," she said. "This work is already underway.”
Philpott also touted the 2016 federal budget's promise of $8.4 billion for First Nations (although $3 billion of that doesn't kick in unless the Liberals win another mandate).