Leaders in northern Ontario’s indigenous communities are speaking out following the suicides of three teenagers and a young man over the course of one week, The Canadian Press reports.
Two 12-year-olds from Pikangikum killed themselves the first weekend in July, and a 15-year-old girl killed herself in Nibinamik last Tuesday. The following day, a 21-year-old man from the Fort Severn First Nation also took his own life, according to The Canadian Press.
In 2017, there have been 18 suicides recorded in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a community spokesperson told the news agency.
Health Canada, which is responsible for suicide prevention programs in the communities, has extended its support to Pikangikum, Nibinamik and Fort Severn First Nations. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families and communities that are grieving as a result of these tragedies,” the department said in a statement to The Toronto Star.
But First Nation officials said help from provincial and federal authorities hasn’t been enough to help curb the suicide crisis.
“It’s always a very short-term solution, responding to the deaths,” Deputy Grand Chief Anna Achneepineskum told The Canadian Press, adding that a long-term solution is required.
She says that even short-term solutions have fallen short, and support teams for the communities have been stretched too thin.
Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, agrees.
“We’re overwhelmed, first of all, and the message that we keep hearing over and over again from our leadership and our front-line workers is that they’re exhausted and just trying to keep kids alive,” he recently told The Globe and Mail.
Achneepineskum said promises to provide additional resources to another Nishnawbe Aski Nation community, Wapekeka, haven’t materialized. After a third teenager killed herself in June, officials declared a state of emergency.
“And here we are, in July, and we still haven’t received that commitment yet,” Achneepineskum said.
Health Canada said in an email that they have committed nearly $1 million on health services in Wapekeka, The Canadian Press reports.
Achneepineskum told The Canadian Press that she hopes the deaths will push authorities into supplying more aid for the communities. “Every time we lose a child, we always say — you know what? We can’t lose any more,” she said.