Re­ac­tive mea­sures not a so­lu­tion to Cross Lake sui­cide cri­sis

The McGill Daily - - Editorial -

The Pimi­cika­mak Cree Na­tion in Man­i­toba, also known as Cross Lake, de­clared a state of emer­gency on March 9, in the wake of six sui­cides over the past two months and over 140 at­tempts in the com­mu­nity of 8,365 in the last two weeks alone. Pre­vi­ous re­quests for provin­cial and fed­eral aid have been met with in­ad­e­quate as­sis­tance; last month, a meet­ing with Man­i­toba’s Min­is­ter of Health re­sulted in one men­tal health worker be­ing sent to the com­mu­nity for a sin­gle eight-hour shift. The sui­cide cri­sis, how­ever, can­not be re­solved with­out con­sid­er­ing the other hard­ships af­fect­ing Cross Lake, in­clud­ing the destruc­tion of its land by a Man­i­toba Hy­dro sta­tion and a lack of eco­nomic se­cu­rity with an 80 per cent un­em­ploy­ment rate. In or­der to se­ri­ously con­front Cross Lake’s sui­cide cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment must, in con­sul­ta­tion with the Na­tion, ad­dress the sys­temic roots of this cri­sis.

While the gov­ern­ment has made some ef­forts since the state of emer­gency was de­clared, they are in­ad­e­quate and over­due. Fol­low­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency, the com­mu­nity asked for at least six men­tal health work­ers, a child psy­chol­o­gist, a fam­ily ther­a­pist, coun­sel­lors, and physi­cians; the provin­cial gov­ern­ment dis­patched sev­eral fed­er­ally funded emer­gency men­tal health work­ers and coun­sel­lors on a tem­po­rary ba­sis. How­ever, in a com­mu­nity where 170 stu­dents in a school of 1,200 are on a sui­cide-watch list, these re­ac­tive mea­sures will not ful­fill the Na­tion’s long-stand­ing need for ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties, such as a hos­pi­tal and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties for youth. The stan­dard of only re­act­ing to a marginal­ized com­mu­nity’s needs when it is in a state of emer­gency is grossly in­ad­e­quate. The gov­ern­ment should have been proac­tive in pro­vid­ing the re- quested re­sources be­fore cri­sis sta­tus was reached. That it didn’t do so is ev­i­dence that the Cana­dian state con­tin­ues a his­tor­i­cal pat­tern of treat­ing Indige­nous peo­ple as ex­pend­able.

While not all Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have com­pa­ra­ble sui­cide rates, sui­cide con­tin­ues to dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Health Canada, First Na­tions youth die by sui­cide five to six times more of­ten than non-indige­nous youth, and Inuit youth 11 times more of­ten; sui­cide and self-in­flicted in­juries are the lead­ing cause of death for First Na­tions youth and adults up to 44 years old. Many of those who have at­tempted or died by sui­cide have con­nec­tions to the geno­ci­dal res­i­den­tial school­ing sys­tem or the foster care sys­tem, which have both re­sulted in the loss of the iden­ti­ties and cul­tures of many Indige­nous chil­dren. The root causes of the sui­cide epi­demic at Cross Lake – which in­clude poverty, over­crowded hous­ing, and in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma and abuse – stem from the past and on­go­ing in­jus­tices of colo­nial­ism.

The gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress these struc­tural causes. In­stead of only re­act­ing and apol­o­giz­ing when things reach a point of cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment needs to pro­vide sub­stan­tive re­sources to ful­fill Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties’ ex­pressed needs, such as eco­nomic se­cu­rity, sus­tain­able men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties, and em­ploy­ment pro­grams. As well, all set­tlers have a con­stant part to play in push­ing the gov­ern­ment to act – it should not take a state of emer­gency to get Canada to no­tice.

—The Mcgill Daily edi­to­rial board

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