Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Stop the Tragic Suicides on Reserves

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Stop the Tragic Suicides on Reserves

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Stop the tragic suicides on reserves


An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Jan. 16:

The news that two 12-year-old girls took their own lives on the northern Ontario First Nations reserve of Wapekeka last week is heartbreaking. But tragically, the horror of children taking their own lives is all too common -- sometimes even epidemic -- on remote reserves across the country.

In the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, alone, which includes Wapekeka, 70 children aged 10 to 14 and 200 young people between the ages of 15 to 20 took their own lives from 1986 to 2016.

Another Nishnawbe nation, Attawapiskat, declared a state of emergency last April after 100 people, including children, tried to kill themselves in a community of only 2,000.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde says the aboriginal youth suicide rate is five times the national average.

Such a crisis would never be tolerated if it was happening in a white, non-indigenous community. It must be stopped.

No wonder, then, that Nishnawbe Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler is asking for a national suicide strategy to combat the epidemic. As he points out, flying in crisis teams when suicides spike should not be the answer to a disaster that has gripped indigenous communities for decades.

It's up to First Nations and Ottawa to work out quickly what such a strategy would look like. But in the longer term, the solution must be to root out the causes of hopelessness that fuel the spikes in child suicide. Among them are poverty, overcrowding, inadequate housing and schooling, a lack of mental health services, the high removal rates of children from their own homes by child welfare authorities, addiction and skyrocketing rates of sexual assault.

In short, Ottawa must address the inequities that children on reserves face to stop the desperation that leads to suicide attempts in the first place.

"Canada has always had the answers about inequality," says Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. …

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