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Indigenous support is helping, but fly-in First Nation's suicide crisis continues

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2019 (296 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — A fly-in First Nation in northeast Manitoba is mourning two more suicides — and more than 100 attempts — but says its its youth are starting to heal.

"We don't want anyone to fall through the cracks," said Chief Gilbert Andrews of God's Lake First Nation, located about 550 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg

The reserve of 1,500 residents declared a state of emergency in late August after four young people took their lives. Since then, another two have died by suicide.

NDP MP Niki Ashton.

JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

NDP MP Niki Ashton.

An earlier news release said 22 people had attempted suicide — Andrews said that number counted only those who had to be flown to Winnipeg for a medical assessment. From May to August, there were more than 100 attempts.

He wasn’t sure if some had attempted more than once, adding that "70 to 90 per cent of them are young girls."

It’s an ongoing problem and the state of emergency is still in place, he said.

Federal, provincial and tribal authorities are meeting next Wednesday in the community to plot a long-term plan for improving mental health.

“This needs to be a real wake-up call. The level of hopelessness is reaching peak levels.” — Northern Manitoba MP Niki Ashton

Northern Manitoba MP Niki Ashton said trauma is driving suicide crises in remote communities and crime in downtown Winnipeg.

"This needs to be a real wake-up call," said Ashton. "The level of hopelessness is reaching peak levels."

The NDP MP was particularly troubled to hear most of the attempts were by young girls, and at least one was a mother.

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If you are in need of help, please phone the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at: 1-877-435-7170.

"Especially in Indigenous communities, women are considered the life-givers," she said. "It’s a specific cry for help that we can't ignore."

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak deployed its mental-health crisis team to the community during the summer, Andrews said. The Keewatin Tribal Council, nearby reserves, the Natawiwewak clinic and MKO have helped provide counselling, cultural support and sharing circles.

"We’re getting a handle on some of the reasons," he said in his first interview since declaring the state of emergency. "We’ve been working on a daily basis."

The support groups have been funded by Indigenous Services Canada, which says the Dec. 11 meeting will help "monitor, co-ordinate and advance the response" while Ottawa’s longer-term goal is to have Indigenous people run their own health systems.

God's Lake Narrows First Nation Chief Gilbert Andrews.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

God's Lake Narrows First Nation Chief Gilbert Andrews.

"The loss of life from suicide is a tragedy beyond measure, and we are deeply concerned about the ongoing losses," wrote spokeswoman Martine Stevens.

Andrews met this week with new Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and told him the crisis is connected to child-welfare apprehensions, the housing crunch, high living costs and a lack of recreational facilities.

In the 2016 census, a quarter of the First Nation's households were deemed unsuitable for the number of adults and children living in them. In an October 2017 visit, the Free Press documented up to 20 people living in a three-bedroom house.

“They have a sense of hopelessness when they see their siblings and themselves being apprehended. They don't know how to express it; they take their lives.” — God's Lake First Nation Chief Gilbert Andrews

Andrews said that overcrowding contributes to children being apprehended and put in foster care. Those not taken away are surrounded by relatives coping with intergenerational trauma, and have little to do with their time.

"They have a sense of hopelessness when they see their siblings and themselves being apprehended," he said. "They don't know how to express it; they take their lives."

Ashton said it was "heartless" that ISC was sending its Manitoba head to the community three months after it declared a state of emergency.

She suggested an all-weather road might help bring in more services and better access to health care, though the province has shelved plans to build a road because of budget constraints.

Cross Lake, also known as Pimicikamak Cree Nation, declared a state of emergency in March 2016 after six people, mostly teenagers, killed themselves over the course of three months.

Cross Lake, also known as Pimicikamak Cree Nation, declared a state of emergency in March 2016 after six people, mostly teenagers, killed themselves over the course of three months.

"Isolation in this day and age is literally killing young people," she said, noting an anecdotal drop in suicides after Berens River First Nation got road access.

Cross Lake, also known as Pimicikamak Cree Nation, declared a state of emergency in March 2016. Six people, mostly teenagers, killed themselves over the course of three months, while more than 140 people had expressed a desire to die by suicide, or had made an attempt.

The case made national headlines and resulted in the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government pledging a health centre and a recreational facility.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, December 6, 2019 at 5:54 PM CST: Adds photo

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