Canada pledges to solve aboriginal suicide crisis

Canadian minister promises ‘real plan’ to help aboriginal community plagued by suicide attempts and low living conditions

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Canada's Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett talks with children in the Attawapiskat First Nation territory.

A Canadian Cabinet Minister toured Attawapiskat on Monday and said the government was finalising a comprehensive plan to help the aboriginal community, which is plagued by suicide attempts and harsh living conditions.

"We had a good, frank discussion" Canada's Indigenous and Northern Affairs Misinister Carolyn Bennet told reporters as she met for about two hours with Chief Bruce Shisheesh in Attawapiskat, a remote reserve of 2,000 people.

"It's no longer going to be Band-aids and piecemeal. It's going to be a real plan."

Saying announcements were imminent, Bennett said, "We're almost there."

Five children tried to take their own lives on Friday night in the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve. The area is only accessible by plane or icy roads. It follows 11 attempted suicides by Canadian aboriginal community members the previous weekend.

The news of the attempted suicides was described as "heartbreaking" by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"The suicide rate was many times higher for aboriginals than for other Canadians because of their loss of culture, stemming partly from past governments forcing aboriginals to leave their communities and attend residential schools," said Bennet.

The minister said she would appoint a youth delegation from the community to serve as her advisers and travel to Ottawa. 

Bennet also pledged a new youth centre, programs for children and plans to reclaim the healing centre - which has been turned into housing since many residents are homeless - are also in the works.

Canada's 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up about 4 percent of the country's population of 36 million, suffer from higher levels of poverty and a lower life expectancy than other Canadians and are more often victims of violent crime, addiction and incarceration.

Canada’s Liberal government said in March it would spend an extra C$8.37 billion ($6.54 billion) over five years to help the aboriginal population deal with dire living conditions, which include overcrowded housing and unfit drinking water.

Two Ontario government ministers visited the Attawapiskat territory and assigned additional healthcare staff, last week.

Elected last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had vowed to repair relations with Canada’s indigenous people, and deal with high levels of poverty, crime, bad housing and poor health among Aboriginals.

TRTWorld and agencies