Canada’s parliament will meet in an emergency session over a rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal teenagers in a remote, poverty-stricken community whose people feel isolated from the rest of the world.
Over the past weekend alone, 11 people of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario tried to kill themselves, then a second group was brought to hospital Monday night after suicide attempts, prompting Chief Bruce Shisheesh to declare a state of emergency.
An 11-year-old child was in each of the groups treated over the past few days and the attempts follow a total of 28 attempted suicides in the month of March, some of them adults, health officials said.
The reasons for people trying to end their lives are varied, but Attawapiskat leaders point to an underlying despondency and pessimism among their people as well as an increasing number of prescription drug overdoses since December.
Living in isolated communities with chronic unemployment and crowded housing, some young aboriginals lack clean water but have easy internet access, giving them a glimpse of affluence in the rest of Canada.
“We feel isolated – we don’t feel part of the rest of the world,” said Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, who represents 30 aboriginal communities.
“The basic needs are astronomical.”
Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up about four per cent of the population, have a lower life expectancy than other Canadians and are more often victims of violent crime.
The problems plaguing aboriginals gained prominence in January when a gunman killed four people in La Loche, Saskatchewan.
An aboriginal teenager was charged in the shootings.
The emergency parliamentary session was requested on Tuesday by New Democrat legislator Charlie Angus, whose constituency includes Attawapiskat.
Angus wants Ottawa do more “to end this cycle of crisis and death among young people”.
Another Canadian aboriginal community in the western province of Manitoba reported six suicides in two months and 140 suicide attempts in two weeks in an appeal for federal aid last month.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800