- Suicide rates among First Nations youth are 5 to 7 times higher than non-Indigenous youth and the Inuit youth suicide rate is 11 times the national average. (Campaign 2000 Eliminate Poverty, Nov, 2016)
- The four Inuit regions in Canada (Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik in Northern Quebec, and Nunatsiavut in Northern Labrador), collectively known as Inuit Nunangat, have rates of suicide that range from five to 25 times the rate of suicide for Canada as a whole.
- Heath authorities in Nunavik, the Quebec region that is home to the province’s Inuit communities, have already sent extra mental-health resources to one hard hit village, Puvirnituq, a village on the shores of Hudson’s Bay with 1,779 residents that has had at least 10 suicides since the beginning of 2018. (CP Oct. 22, 2018)
Current Problems and Issues with Indigenous suicide
“Pillars for Life: Saskatchewan’s Suicide Prevention Strategy” fails Indigenous people
May 13, 2020: The Star Phoenix – Jack Hicks, who helped draft suicide prevention plans for Nunavut and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said the provincial government’s “Pillars for Life” strategy doesn’t have a clear path to implementation and sets goals that are “so vague as to be meaningless.” Hicks said it doesn’t get at the root of why Saskatchewan’s suicide rate, which was roughly double the national average in 2018, is so high in the first place.
Nor does it address the underlying reasons for high suicide rates among northern communities, Indigenous people or youth. The word “trauma” does not appear in the plan, which Hicks takes as a sign that First Nations and Métis concerns are not adequately represented. The document is only eight pages long, three of which are taken up by the bibliography and the introduction. Hicks said it doesn’t get at the root of why Saskatchewan’s suicide rate, which was roughly double the national average in 2018, is so high in the first place.
May 20, 2020: Regina Leader-Post – Given the fact that Saskatchewan has the highest rate of death by suicide of any province in the country, and that the suicide rate is increasing, the document is a travesty. Having read and assessed more than 100 suicide prevention strategies from around the world, I take no pleasure in saying that I have never read anything as weak as Saskatchewan’s. Not even close.” Jack Hicks.
National media attention has alerted Canadians to the gravity of the suicide situation in northern Saskatchewan. Teenage First Nations girls in this province die by suicide at a rate almost 30 times that of their non-Indigenous peers. How is that sharply elevated burden of suffering from a “largely preventable” public health problem not a matter of urgency for our society?
Asked about the province’s failure to act on the Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations Suicide Prevention strategy, Minister for Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding told a Star Phoenix reporter last week that “Suicide is a provincial concern,” and that “There is no one specific entity that we’re going to be able to fund along that line.” Let us be clear. If white girls in this province had a suicide rate 30 times that of First Nations girls, concerted action would be taken. A very different suicide prevention strategy would have been released, with the funding required to ensure effective implementation. The province’s strategy confirms the ongoing systemic racism in health care in Saskatchewan.
June 19, 2020: CBC – Bill No. 618 — The Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act introduced for the second time by NDP MLA Doyle Vermette was defeated by the ruling conservative Saskatchewan Party members who voted unanimously against the measure. “One of the key elements of Doyle’s bill was consultation with First Nations and Métis leadership, with community leadership, with families,” NDP Leader Ryan Meili said. “And none of that went into the development of “Pillars of Life”. The bill would have required the provincial government to establish a provincial strategy that recognizes suicide as a not only a mental health issue, but a public health issue as well.
According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 2,338 people have died by suicide from 2005 to 2019 in the province. Twenty-eight per cent of those people were Indigenous.
Sept. 13, 2020: CBC – The rejection of Vermette’s proposal led Tristen Durocher to walk 635 kilometers to Regina from Air Ronge in early July to raise awareness about suicide in the province. Once in Regina, he set up a teepee in front of the provincial legislature and started a ceremonial fast. His protest, which he called Walking With Our Angels, was a response to a suicide prevention bill put forward by the NDP that was voted down by the provincial government. He said his stay in front of the Saskatchewan legislature building has been educational.
“I learned a lot about the state of the Canadian public’s attitudes towards Indigenous people,” Durocher said. “And I learned a lot about how unwilling the government is to acknowledge a lot of problems that afflict the northern section of our province.” He added there are a lot of members of the public who are unwilling to “even take a baby step” toward the goal of reconciliation.”Our premier is one of those people because he did speak about reconciliation being a journey, we all need to work together while reconciliation was right across the road,” Durocher said. “And he didn’t do absolutely anything, he sent a few subordinates, he himself didn’t even acknowledge that we exist.”
“Reconciliation was right across the road and he refused to take a single step.”
Among youth aged 10-17 suicide is the # 1 leading cause of death in Manitoba
May 7, 2020 – On national Youth Mental Health Day, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth released “Stop Giving Me a Number and Start Giving Me a Person: How 22 Girls Illuminate the Cracks in the Manitoba Youth Mental Health and Addiction System”. The report focuses on the suicide of 22 girls aged 11-17 from mostly rural and norther communities between 2013 -2019. 20 of the victims were either First Nations or Métis.
These girls did not have appropriate access to mental health and addictions services where they lived. And as we know from past reports, like The Slow Disappearance of Matthew (February 2020), demand for these provincial services in Winnipeg already outpaces supply,” Penrose said. All of the girls in this report also experienced early childhood traumas, but only three were offered some type of professional trauma-related interventions in their early and middle years.
Similar to the findings of our 22 child death investigations, the Virgo Report repeatedly noted that the availability of, and accessibility to, services in the mental health and addictions systems vary greatly across our province by region. Rural and remote communities throughout Manitoba, for example, experience limited access to services and supports due to their location and the availability of service providers. Of course, these rural. and remote locations, where services are limited or non-existent are also the locations populated by Indigenous Peoples. This leads to unequal access to provincial services, which is a children’s rights issue. This current investigation found that many of the Virgo Report’s criticisms of Manitoba’s youth mental health and addictions system remain true today and are certainly reflected in the stories of the 22 girls which informed this report. These include a lack of access to locally available services, a lack of follow-up support after crisis, service providers not communicating and collaborating to carry out plans, a lack of access to culturally appropriate services, and services that do not match the needs of youth.
- Conduct a gap analysis – The province must see what services are available in youth mental health and addictions and release a public framework and its strategic plan for system overhaul.
- Demonstrate equitable access to services – The province must spread youth mental health and addictions services throughout Manitoba in any future frameworks or strategic plans.
- Train workers on trauma and its effects – The province must provide early childhood trauma education to all government service providers working with children and youth.
- Help families learn where the right resources are – The province must conduct and publicize an annual inventory of what therapeutic trauma interventions are available to children and youth in Manitoba, describing whether services require referrals and what their eligibility criteria are.
- Create more youth hubs – In keeping with recommendation 4.8 of the Virgo Report, the province must establish more youth hubs outside of Winnipeg, providing access to community-based services like counselling, tutoring and extracurricular activities.
- Create “focal points” outside of Winnipeg – In keeping with recommendation 2.11 of the Virgo Report, the province must develop “focal points” outside Winnipeg, so that all Manitobans can have access to urgent and acute mental health and addictions clinicians and other professionals and services closer to their homes.
- Create long-term treatment for youth with the highest needs – The province must develop an inpatient or community-based long-term treatment facility that offers stabilization, assessment, treatment and aftercare for youth at the top tier of mental health and addiction service needs.
Lack of federal and provincial assistance in addressing cluster suicides in Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in northern Saskatchewan
Dec. 5, 2019: 980 CJME – Canadian Press: Ronald Mitsuing, chief of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in northern Saskatchewan says he is disappointed at the lack of long-term help from the provincial and federal governments to deal with what he says is a suicide crisis. The leaders are concerned about what they are calling “cluster suicides” in their community of Loon Lake, about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. They say there have been three suicides, including one by a 10-year-old girl, in three weeks and eight suicide attempts, mostly by young people.
The Opposition NDP has put forward a private member’s bill that would create a suicide prevention strategy. Its leader says the Saskatchewan Party government has failed to act on reducing poverty and developing economic opportunities in the north. Band CEO Barry Mitsuing Chalifoux said an ongoing strategy would better help prevent suicide crises and give local governments ideas on what resources could be of help in their communities. The First Nation wants parenting programs and funding to hire additional supports in order to monitor its youth, he said. In the fall of 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called several suicides by children in northern Saskatchewan a tragedy. Four girls between the ages of 10 and 14 had taken their own lives over a short period of time.
Dec. 5, 2019 – Radio- Canada: Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told Chief Ronald Mitsuing, that Ottawa would financially support the suicide-prevention strategy released last year by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan…billed as the first “decolonized First Nations-led approach” to suicide prevention and intervention in Canada.
Suicide crisis in the Labrador Innu community of Sheshatshiu after 10 people between ages 12 and 18 attempted suicide.
Oct. 29, 2019 – CBC: Chief Eugene Hart declared a suicide crisis in the Labrador Innu community of Sheshatshiu after 10 people between ages 12 and 18 attempted suicide. Those attempts came on the heels of a 20-year-old woman’s drowning death the previous weekend, as well as the loss of 14 community members to natural causes over the last year. Failure to approve funding requests over 20 years ago to build infrastructure and capacity in mental health counselling, social work, education etc. in a community whose average age is now 21, less that 50% of the average age of the broader population of 46.
Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates calls for all levels of government to “take concrete action to prevent youth suicide in Canada”
Sept. 17, 2019 – The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates (CCCYA) published “A National Paper on Youth Suicide” that calls on governments at the national, provincial and territorial levels to take concrete action to prevent youth suicide in Canada. Failure to address the multi-faceted issues impacting indigenous communities has led to a suicide epidemic.
The paper consolidates research by the CCCYA members that led to the identification of three broad findings related to youth suicide:
- the impact of traumatic childhood experiences,
- the importance of service integration and
- continuity and how the voices of children and youth needs to be at the front of change.
National Paper on Youth Suicide: Calls to Action
- The Government of Canada develop and implement a fully resourced National Suicide Strategy with designated funding to the provinces and territories to create their own, or to support existing strategies where applicable. Whether at the federal, provincial or territorial level, young people must be included in all stages of development and implementation.
- The Government of Canada develop and implement a cross-jurisdictional, standardized, data system and to compel provinces in the mandatory reporting of attempted and completed suicide.
- The Government of Canada shall engage in meaningful partnerships with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities experiencing elevated rates of suicidal behaviour of young people and develop interventions to eliminate these health disparities. This work should draw on the leadership and expertise of Indigenous youth and Elders whenever possible.
Lack of access to federal programming to fund prevention resources to address addictions issues
Oct. 30, 2018 – First Nations with addiction challenges only have access to two programs funded by the Government of Canada: the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program. First Nations are currently denied the fiscal resources to construct addiction centres in their Nations due to a moratorium unilaterally placed on them
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Substance abuse is more common in northern and remote communities as a result of a history of colonization, isolation, poverty, and language barriers. These First Nations are also more vulnerable to suicide, violence, and poor performance in schools. The numbers of First Nation citizens that are addicted to a variety of substances are staggering and demonstrate a very tragic situation both on and off reserve. The government needs to live up to its promise of working with First Nations on a ‘nation to nation’ basis.
“The lack of treatment facilities prevents community members from obtaining immediate services for crisis intervention, aftercare, and family support.” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).