By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) are offering condolences, while also calling out for more support for First Nations communities, as one Manitoba community continues to deal with an ongoing and disturbing suicide crisis.
“This ongoing mental health crisis and lack of program funding for youth is an ongoing issue that Canada has shied away from,” AMC Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in a media release reacting to the news that Red Sucker Lake First Nation Chief Samuel Knott has declared a state of emergency in the fly-in community that sits about 760 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
“It should not take these tragic and irreversible measures to get support. We must stop these reactionary band-aid solutions, and commit to preventative measures so that our relatives do not seek drastic solutions to feeling unseen.”
The community declared the state of emergency and requested that a crisis team and mental health workers be deployed immediately, after 17 recent suicides and suicide attempts, and most recently the death of a 16-year-old boy in the community who died by suicide last Tuesday.
AMC said they believe that if funding for both supports and resources don’t come to First Nations communities here in Manitoba, many of those communities will continue to see suicides and suicide attempts.
“Chief Knott stated that they need more resources and supports so that youth have something to look forward to, and to promote a deeper sense of purpose and passion,” McLean said. “Our youth are crying for help, and there are ways the government can step up and help them.
“We need governments to send not only mental health counselors, but to fund appropriate community initiatives, and give the youth something to participate in and develop a sense of pride and individuality, and discover their talents.
“Our youth are our future, and they will one day be leaders and change-makers, and we cannot afford to lose them due to dispassionate politics.”
A northern Manitoba MP is now also asking that the federal government increase supports and resources, as she said Red Sucker Lake and many other First Nations communities are in need of “urgent help.”
“Red Sucker Lake’s Chief Knott is clear that this is a crisis.
Young people need hope,” Churchill_Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton said, while speaking in Ottawa during Question Period on Thursday.
“It is time to fix their half-finished arena, deliver the new school they have been promised, build the regional treatment centre they need, and ensure people in poverty can afford basic necessities in the face of sky-high prices.
“It is time to end the third-world living conditions. There can be no true reconciliation without action for communities like Red Sucker Lake.”
An Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) spokesperson said in an email that federal officials are aware of the crisis unfolding in Red Sucker Lake, and plan to take steps to address it.
“We are deeply troubled by the recent suicides in Red Sucker Lake First Nation,” the spokesperson said.
“Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) officials met with the community on October 21, 2022 to discuss their needs, and offered assistance to community leadership. ISC will continue to work with leadership and partners to provide them with the supports needed.
“Additionally, we are in discussion with the community in regards to an increase of therapist service days, with the intention for this to be in effect as soon as possible.”
The federal government also stressed that there is a phone line and an online chat that Indigenous Canadians can access if they need support, or feel they are in a crisis situation, and that the service is available 24/7 in English and French, and upon request in Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut.
More information on the service can be found by visiting hopeforwellness.ca.
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.