PSAC Ontario urges the federal and provincial governments to address the chronic under-funding and lack of resources for education, training, housing, infrastructure and health services for indigenous communities across Canada.
Recently, a state of emergency was declared by the Attawapiskat community in northern Ontario. On April 9th, after 11 young people tried to kill themselves in an attempted suicide pact, community leaders ordered the state of emergency to access critical health services.
Attawapiskat is a small community with about 2,000 residents, yet it has seen more than 100 suicide attempts in the past seven months alone, including nearly 30 attempts in March.
Sadly, the crisis taking place in Attawapiskat is not new, but the result of years of systemic problems that are not unique to this indigenous community. Stories like the fatal La Loche School shooting in Saskatchewan and the string of suicides that left six people dead in Manitoba’s Pimicikamak community are all too common.
Like so many other indigenous communities, Attawapiskat grapples with limited health services and high unemployment, poor water quality and sanitation, inadequate housing and infrastructure and the intergenerational impacts of colonialism and the residential school system.
The United Nations has stated that conditions on Canada’s reserves are shocking, with members in these communities living in “Third World conditions”. As a result, suicide is the leading cause of death among indigenous people under the age of 45, and for youth, the suicide rate is six times higher than non-indigenous people.
For many Canadians, it may be difficult to imagine the adversity and scale of tragedies endured by so many indigenous people. Improving the living conditions in these communities, along with implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, are essential in beginning the healing process.
Regional Executive Vice-President – Ontario
Public Service Alliance of Canada