TORONTO - A group of aboriginal rights activists staged a sit-in at the Toronto offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on Wednesday, saying they were acting in solidarity with a remote Ontario First Nation struggling with a suicide crisis.
Protesters took over the front lobby space of the office, housed in a building located in mid-town Toronto, hanging an upside-down Canadian flag at the reception desk and a flag of the Attawapiskat First Nation on a wall.
The group said they had two key demands — that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visit Attawapiskat immediately, and that the demands of the youth of Attawapiskat, which include calls for better resources for young people, be met.
"When Trudeau says that he's going up there and that the demands of the young people who wrote this are being addressed and being taken seriously, then you're going to see us leave," said Sigrid Kneve, who had pinned a sheet with the youth demands onto her clothing.
Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over the weekend after seeing 11 suicide attempts this month. On Monday, police helped thwart a suicide pact between 13 young aboriginal people, including a nine-year-old.
There have been several crises in Attawapiskat in recent years, including annual spring flooding, contaminated drinking water and a condemned schoolhouse built on the site of a massive diesel spill.
Wednesday's demonstrators identified themselves as grassroots protesters and said they wanted to see improvements in Attawapiskat, as well as in other First Nations communities.
"To wait until an emergency situation is shameful. So that's why we're here," said Carrie Lester. "People need to wake up."