Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Emergency Debate and the Children of Attawapiskat

I watched the emergency debate in the Commons on the crisis in Attawapiskat, and I heard some fine speeches.

Especially the one from Charlie Angus. 

No one can understand "how a country as rich as Canada can leave so many young children and young people behind," said Charlie Angus, whose sprawling northern Ontario riding includes the deeply troubled and isolated aboriginal community.

And let's hope that something good comes out of it because the situation couldn't be worse.

And this cry for help from the children of Attawapiskat couldn't be more desperate. 

A suicide pact by 13 young aboriginal people, including a 9-year-old, has been thwarted on a remote First Nation in northern Ontario where local leaders say they’re so overwhelmed by the suicide crisis that extra police officers have been called in from nearby communities.

Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said the youths were overheard making a pact to kill themselves on Monday and police brought them to the local hospital in Attawapiskat for an evaluation.

But the hospital was already treating other patients who had attempted suicide in recent days and couldn’t see all of the new arrivals, Achneepineskum said, so about half of them temporarily waited in jail for treatment, the only other place where officials felt their safety could be secured.

Or more depressing...

For where else but in a native community in Canada could so many children be trying to kill themselves? Or have to wait for treatment in a jail.

Still, I'm happy to see that help is arriving.

And also glad to see that a psychiatrist who has worked in other aboriginal communities, believes like I do, that in addition to everything else we need to find a way to make life more interesting and livable for Attawapiskat's  young people.

In addition to mental health funding, Wieman said various levels of government should also be looking for other ways to address “an emotional distress that has built up” in indigenous communities. 

That could mean simple things such as more recreational activities or even computer labs on reserves so that youth can feel connected to the outside world, she said.

Because while boredom can't be quantified, when combined with poverty, hopelessness, and drug abuse, it can lead young people into a depressive state, and one suicide can lead to another.

So in that regard, I found this really encouraging. 

For who better to tell us what is needed than the young people themselves?

And this tells me that all hope is not lost...

They're not giving up so we can't either, and should do all we can to make sure their voices are heard.

In Attawapiskat they held a candlelight vigil last night

Let the young people of that suffering community help lead us all out of the darkness and into the light...

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  1. Anonymous8:19 AM

    We could be studying the Nordic countries to find out how they deal with their isolated aboriginal communities. Norway, of course, has huge amounts of money which it gleaned from its oil wealth and has wonderful medical care in it's north.

    1. hi anon...I would encourage our government to study how other countries deal with isolated northern communities, for anything we might learn would be useful, and we clearly need to come up with new and creative ideas if we are ever going to end the nightmare we find ourselves in...

  2. As well as Charlie's Québec neighbour Roméo Saganash, and his daughter Maïté Saganash (who has spoken out on Radio-Canada). Roméo's site led to this admirable young artist: who also created Ottawapiksat!

    1. hi lagatta....thanks for the link. Aaron is indeed a talented young aboriginal artist. And your note made me think of how the Crees on the Quebec side of James Bay have to the best of my knowledge, been able to avoid many of the social problems that plague other native communities. Although the Hydro agreement was criticized at the time, it did give them a good amount of money, and most importantly gave them a feeling of respect....

    2. Yes, there was a lot wrong with the James Bay Agreement, especially as originally proposed, but the Indigenous people on James and Ungava Bays (mostly Cree and Inuit, but some smaller groups in northern Québec were also involved) managed to negotiate a far better agreement than what the Bourassa government had first proposed. There are also some Native businesses such as airlines to the North. There is a long wrong on the Québec side too and recently there was a spate of suicide attempts in Kuujjuak (I think I wrote about this in an earlier post of yours) but in general the living conditions are nowhere near as dire as in the far north of Ontario.

      Confession, I was support staff for a native organisation involved in the negotiation process. I was VERY young...

    3. Here is a decent article from the National Pest of all things. Being the Pest, it puts too much emphasis on the "business model", but it is a good thing that the Cree (and Inuit) control their own businesses as well as their social services. These peoples fought very hard for these rights:

      And I love the idea of sending letters and drawings to their cousins across the Bay.

  3. e.a.f.10:35 PM

    Northern communities need better housing, water and sewer. They need better schools, health care and most of all something to keep young people active. You can go to any number of small towns and see they have recreational facilities. In Northern communities, not so much. If each community had an ice rink, gym, etc. life would be so much better for the communities. Although no theatre chain is going to build a movie theatre, it would be good if small communities did things like have movie nights at the rec hall. Kids like to play. there isn't anywhere to play in most of these communities.

    1. hi e.a.f...I just saw a documentary on the housing situation in Attawapiskat. And although the situation has improved since then by the arrival of some reconstructed houses, it's still third world, overcrowding is endemic, and I had to pick myself to believe that what I was seeing was Canada. I don't have a magic solution, but nobody in Canada should be forced to live like that....

  4. Thank you for raising this issue, Simon. Having worked in a few remote communities I've seen the despair first hand. I've seen 12 year olds held in jails after threatening suicide because that was the only place to keep them from harming themselves and I once sat in a school hall way for the better part of an hour with a kid who was talking of killing himself. Let's just say you choose your words VERY carefully and its a situation I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Sadly, my MP is the Northern Affairs critic and while he likes to run his mouth about Trudeau (even got one of his goofy fliers in the mail today) he seems to have been absolutely silent during this crisis. I really would like to hear from the PM as well on this issue. I've always strongly believed that FN people can be successful when given the tools to do the job. There are many examples of reserves that have the political and economic tools to take ownership of their land, resources and communities. Only then are they no longer on the outside looking in. It should be abundantly clear by now that the system is broken. I really do wish that all politicians regardless of their political shade could see this, put their childish bickering behind them and make this issue an absolute priority.

    1. Hi Way Way Up...there is no issue that bothers me so much, or shames me so much. And I simply can't accept those who shrug their shoulders, complain about how money the government has spent, and basically wash their hands of the problem. I too have no doubt that FN can be successful in they are given the tools to do the job. And I've pointed out how the Cree on the Quebec side of James Bay are in far better shape after negotiating a deal years ago that allowed them to set up their own businesses, and modernize clinics recreation centres etc. And I also agree with you that this should not be a partisan issue, it should be a national project, and a creative challenge that is exciting not depressing. And yes Justin Trudeau should go up there ASAP, so he can see for himself what's needed, and get his selfie taken with every kid.... ;)