Council leaders in Attawapiskat First Nation, a town of just 2,000 people on remote James Bay, say they have been ‘overwhelmed’ with the number of suicide attempts in recent months.
Since September last year 101 people aged from 11 to 71 have attempted suicide with only four health workers, none of whom have mental health training, left to deal with the fall-out.
Chief Bruce Shisheesh and his council voted unanimously on Saturday night to declare an emergency meaning resources can be brought in from elsewhere to help, CBC reports.
The latest spate of suicides, which has plagued the community for decades, began last September when five young girls overdosed on medication and had to be airlifted to hospital.
The following month Sheridan, the 13-year-old great niece of Jackie Hookimaw, a resident of the community, took her only life, the sole fatality of the crisis so far.
Hookimaw, speaking to the National Post, said Sheridan had been plagued with multiple health conditions and was being teased at school before killing herself.
Sheridan’s death sparked a string of other suicide attempts, which local MP Charlie Angus puts down to a lack of services to support young people after tragic event.
He said: ‘When a young person tries to commit suicide in any suburban school, they send in the resources, they send in the emergency team. There’s a standard protocol for response.
‘The northern communities are left on their own. We don’t have the mental health service dollars. We don’t have the resources.’
Shisheesh said overcrowding, with 14 to 15 people living in a single home, along with physical and sexual abuse, and drug use are all leading causes of suicide in the community.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new Prime Minister, has made improving the lives of aboriginal people a cornerstone of his administration.
In his first budget since assuming office, presented last month, Finance Minister Bill Morneau promised billions more in spending to address issues such as education, child services and quality of water in remote communities.
On Twitter, Trudeau said: ‘The news from Attawapiskat is heartbreaking. We’ll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples.’
Meanwhile Ontario heath minister Eric Hoskins said: ‘We will be providing additional health-care experts as needed and we have contacted the ministry of children and youth services about providing emergency life-promotion supports.’
Read more: Attawapiskat declares state of emergency over spate of suicide attempts – Sudbury – CBC News