Crisis in Attawapiskat
Since August 2015, there have been over 100 suicide attempts on the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario. Just this past weekend, there were 11 of those attempts. Among those over the weekend was a 10-year-old boy.
Why did this happen?
The issue is not immediately clear on what caused these several suicide attempts on Saturday, but Chief Bruce Shisheesh says that it can be attributed to:
- Poor living conditions, including mental health services
- Lack of housing
- Drug abuse
Even Chief Bruce Shisheesh is homeless, stating in the video below that he sleeps on a couch. “I feel for my people, I know what they’re going through… it gets depressing.”
Jackie Hookimaw, a resident of the James Bay First Nation, experienced suicide first-hand when her great niece, Sheridan, succumbed to suicide in October 2015 at only 13-years-old. Jackie has noticed that since then, more and more teenage girls have been overdosing on drugs. Since Sheridan’s death, her friends have been grief-stricken with no resources available to assist them. Due to the impact of stress and grief on their mental illness, some of Sheridan’s friends attempt to end their lives.
“There’s different layers of grief. There’s normal grief, when somebody dies from illness or old age. And there’s complicated grief, where there’s severe trauma, like when somebody commits suicide.” ~ Jackie Hookimaw
Charlie Angus, MP of the James Bay Area and NDP indigenous affairs critic, agrees that the northern communities aren’t provided with resources to handle complicated grief. Oftentimes, untrained community members are expected to take the place of mental health professionals, all the while, handling their personal grief.
This story is similar to that of the La Loche shooting, where bullying and a lack of mental health resources drove a teenager to take matters into his own hands.
Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) says, “We need a sustained commitment to address long-standing issues that lead to hopelessness among our peoples, particularly the youth.”
Health Canada has sent a disaster response team to Attawapiskat to offer crisis relief. This team includes two mental health counselors.