More than 100 people have tried to kill themselves, some as young as 10, in Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario since last September—11 of them on April 9. Above, the reserve in 2011.

Attawapiskat First Nation Declares State of Emergency After 101 Suicide Attempts

Daniel Mesec

The Northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency on April 9, the same day that 11 residents attempted suicide—one of them reportedly as young as 10.

Community officials said there have been more than 100 attempted suicides, one fatal, since September 2015. The spike comes amid growing despair experienced, mostly by youth, within the isolated First Nation Reserve on the shores of James Bay. Reports put one of the attempted suicides at just 10 years old.

Chief Bruce Shisheesh and six councillors declared the emergency in hopes of receiving medical and mental health assistance to combat the situation. On Monday April 11, the federal and provincial governments dispatched five health care and crisis workers to the community of about 2,000 people, which has been without a mental health worker for more than four months, according to Shisheesh.

“The cycle of poverty, poor health, suicides, violence will continue for another generation if determinants of health are not addressed immediately,” said Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day in a statement from the Chiefs of Ontario. “These are Third World living conditions, and these emergency declarations are the result. Not one average Canadian would let their children live in such conditions. This should be our tipping point as a people, as a nation and as a country. Canada must invest billions of dollars now on both clean water and adequate housing to begin with.”

The situation has gained international media attention as the opposition parties take aim at the Liberal government for not acting sooner.

“The news from Attawapiskat is heartbreaking,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter, as he pledged anew to continue working with First Nations to improve living conditions for all Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Charlie Angus, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Timmins-James Bay, and official Critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said the issues facing the First Nation community are systemic and must be addressed immediately. There have been more than 700 suicide attempts on First Nation reserves within his riding since 2009, Angus told reporters. He called the situation a pandemic and said there needs to be a long-term response to communities in despair.

This is not the first time Attawapiskat has been in the news. Over the past 10 years the community has declared a state of emergency five times regarding poor drinking water, inadequate housing issues, and flooding and sewage problems. Most visibly, in 2013 former Chief Theresa Spence held a 43-day hunger strike to bring attention to the community’s poor living standards.

“There needs to be a sustainable plan in addressing the need for mental health workers,” said Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of the Mushkegowuk Council, of which Attawapiskat is a member, to CBC’s The Current on April 12. “It doesn’t make any sense to have one worker for 2,000 people.”

Indigenous leaders said there was still hope for healing.

“I am certain and optimistic that if we come together we can work on a resolution to this dire situation,” said Mushkegowuk Council, Grand Chief Solomon in a statement. “We will continue to work with all parties to develop cohesive solutions.”

Just days before the state of emergency was declared in Attawapiskat, a healing walk organized by youth in the community brought attention to the growing issues with suicide, as they remembered a 13-year-old girl who took her own life last October. Several teenagers in the community have been brought to the local hospital and put on watch after it was discovered that many of them had agreed to a suicide pact last week.

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents within Canadian First Nation communities. In recent months calls for action on the tragedies and struggles of aboriginal communities have come from all over the country, including La Loche, Saskatchewan and Northwest Angle #33, near the boarder of Manitoba and Minnesota, which declared a state of emergency after radioactive material was detected in the drinking water.

A similar trend is forming in aboriginal communities south of the border as well. In December the Yurok Tribal Council, near Klamath, California, declared a state of emergency after several tribal members committed suicide over the course of 18 months. That prompted nearly 200 members of a small isolated community near Weitchpec, on the upper Yurok Reservation, to issue a petition to the local government and a call to action on the matter.

“[Yurok youth] love their home and most want to stay here, but the lack of training opportunities, jobs, or even recreational facilities invites unhealthy behaviors and feelings of despair,” the petition read. “The people in this community need to feel that someone cares about what’s happening here. They urgently need your attention and your help.”

These cries of despair clearly mirror those felt by numerous First Nation communities in Canada, which raises more questions about the treatment of Indigenous Peoples throughout North America.

All these factors combined relate to a growing concern in Canada of the dire situations facing Indigenous Peoples. During his Speech to the Throne earlier this year, Trudeau vowed to renew government relationships with First Nations, pledging $8.4 billion in support of aboriginal communities. However, no specific funds were earmarked to battle mental health issues, a fact that was noted by indigenous leaders at the time.

RELATED: 'A Good Start': Trudeau Allocates Unprecedented $8.4 Billion to Indigenous Peoples in 2016 Budget

During a session in the House of Commons on Monday, Health Minister Jane Philpott called the situation one of the most serious and pressing tragedies facing the nation.

“I am devastated by the situation that is taking place in Attawapiskat,” Philpott said. “We are responding to both the immediate needs and long-term needs of the community.”

On Tuesday, Angus issued a letter requesting an emergency sitting of the House of Commons to discuss the ongoing situation in Northern Ontario and the immediate crisis in Attawapiskat. On his Facebook page, Angus announced that Parliament would be holding an emergency session as he called for a collaborative solution to what he said was an ongoing “suicide crisis.”

“Parliament has agreed to my call for an emergency debate on the suicide crisis affecting indigenous communities,” Angus wrote. “We need to come together as Parliamentarians to discuss this issue and begin to find solutions. We need to move beyond the Band-Aid responses.”

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WinterWindTeacher's picture
Submitted by WinterWindTeacher on
Of course these Native people are aware of their conditions and nothing has changed and they don't perceive any substantive change coming and it is filling them with despair over a life not being fully lived. They are aware that they are different, therefore subjected to subhuman conditions - it is painful. It is certainly a very clear call to action - enough is enough. The Native Indigenous people are not responsible for their impoverished conditions - it is what they were abandoned to, and it is shameful. It is not their shame, and it is a tragic mistake for them to take that shame on individually, which rightfully belongs on those who expropriated their lands and way of life. However, one can not be unaffected by ones own appalling living conditions. The number of persons attempting or committing suicide is telling of how really severe the problem is - it is critical. The Native Indigenous communities hardest hit by these tragic in-actions should be the very first of a triage of assessment and care that can be implemented immediately.The Native Indigenous people deserve to have meaningful and fulfilling lives. For all the trillions of dollars spent on wasteful military spending, secretly and otherwise, is cruel deception. That money would be better invested in the many Native Indigenous communities as a measure in restorative justice. I do think that tax dollars spent on improving the lives and communities of Native Indigenous people is a worthy investment, a morally sound and wise choice, and an honesty for the responsibility of their dire conditions which was not a previous predicament prior to colonialism. I will hope that a real campaign, and raising as much money and resources as possible, which is a true election, will get underway as soon as possible. The people of the American continent should see that changing the lives of the First Americans is in their best interest. America could not be America without her first Americans - Native Indigenous. Native Indigenous people and their culture are the very threads that weave the reality of America and without them there can be no America. I truly feel that this is one of those rare campaigns really worth committing to and fighting for. The millions and millions of dollars raised for such and such political candidate rarely effects a great deal of positive change, whereas investing and campaigning for the well being of Native Indigenous people will have a tremendous effect on everyone and the environment. Although this is a crisis it is also an opportunity to recognize the rights of others to coexist peacefully in this world on their traditional lands.That initial ignorance, contempt and subsequent neglect has been a sure path to this moment and the call should be answered . Restorative justice is overdue. A person can not undo what others did but one can act upon ones own inaction. It is possible, necessary and good to repair the bonds to human family, it is human, humane and helps to heal the Earth Mother.

Carly's picture
Submitted by Carly on
Get them fresh water! Get them decent housing, sanitation, parks, activities and every care but do not label and medicate their youth - something common among those in the mental health field. Please help them live a true and vibrant life!

David E.H. Smith's picture
David E.H. Smith
Submitted by David E.H. Smith on
NATIVE SUICIDES LINKED TO INFO. DEPRIVATION; Political ‘Culling of the Herd’, or, Just getting Natives to move? HELP IS (Since 2014) ON THE WAY? UN’s SR, Mr. ANAYA; ‘IGNORAMUS et IGNORABIMUS’ Liberals swear that they may not have had any part in the Planning, Gratification, &/or, Continuing Cover-up of The Residential Schools’ Native Canadian Cultural Genocide & ‘Ordained’ Pedophile Rings? New PM Trudeau sheds Tear as Liberal Party & Canadian Establishment Caught in Complicity of Cultural Genocide? Do Americans & the other signatories of the global corporate treaties/’arrangements’ understand how corporate Canada is continuing to try & avoid its liabilities from its information deprivation & trying to pass its liabilities on to its global corporate associates, their citizens and the citizens of Canada? (CAN)- After discussing with a PSYCHOLOGIST (Native), et al, the relationship BETWEEN: the DEPRIVATION of the most vulnerable Native community members, et al, of the simplest & most basic information, such as the information in The W.A.D. Accord (aka; “The Australian Question”) and the high rates of: 1) SUICIDES, 2) despair, 3) disenchantment, 4) unemployment, 5) poverty, 6) etc., that are found in many Native communities, et al, across Canada, the PSYCHOLOGIST CONCURRED. Some of the aforementioned information, et al, has been subsequently shared with, &/or, improved by, amongst others: 1) senior politicians & bureaucrats; both, federal & provincial, Canadian, et al, 2) the relevant lobbyists’ clients & the executives of the political parties operating in Canada, 3) the “coveted” foreign investor, et al, 4) the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights & 5) et al. If you are interested in utilizing the aforementioned information to minimize, &/or, ELIMINATE the aforementioned major contributing factor to the SUICIDES, etc, &/or, have questions regarding the basis for The Compensation (similar to the compensation re; the Residential Schools, except larger, et al) to the most vulnerable community members, et al, for being deprived of the aforementioned simplest & most basic information, then, you might consider contacting the above groups & individuals in order to obtain some of the information that is in The W.A.D. Accord, etc., then, contacting me at By way of closing, does the information in this letter & the information in The WAD Accord belong to you, or, to the community members? How much do your politicians know about the relationship between the deprivation of the due diligence information & the high rates of suicides, etc., ie what is their competency? And, how willing are your politicians to share the information with you, ie. what is their sincerity? *** Full article, see; *** PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING the enclosed information & questions with 10 friends who will share it with 10 others... *** For more Information & Questions re; The Relationship between Human (Nature) Rights & Economics by way of the TTIP, the CET Agreement, TPP, C-CI Treaty, et al, and First Nation's Treaties & The WAD Accord & List of RECENT ARTICLES, LETTERS & NOTIFICATIONS by DEHS, see;

Colleen McGee
Colleen McGee
Submitted by Colleen McGee on
This is a problem of emptiness of the soul and spirit,rather than of physical needs not being met. If these people had the hope of God and eternity in Jesus Christ, they would feel whole in their spirits and the absence of physical needs wouldn't impact them as much. May God put it in the heart of some Christians to move to that area and teach them the gospel of salvation in Christ where real peace in life comes. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 28-29

Colleen McGee
Colleen McGee
Submitted by Colleen McGee on
What they need is healing and peace in their hearts and souls that only comes through faith and salvation in Jesus Christ. Hopefully some Christian missionaries will move to that community and teach them the word of God and how to have a relationship with Jesus.