Five more suicide attempts in Canada aboriginal community in crisis

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 16, 2016 4:22 PM

By Ethan Lou

TORONTO (Reuters) - Five children tried to take their own lives Friday evening in a Canadian aboriginal community of 2,000 that has declared a state of emergency over repeated suicide attempts, its chief said.

Chief Bruce Shisheesh of the Attawapiskat First Nation in the province of Ontario confirmed the news in a brief telephone conversation on Saturday. It was not immediately clear how old the children are.

The remote northern community, plagued by poverty and a lack of infrastructure, declared a state of emergency last Saturday after 11 of its members attempted suicide in one weekend and 28 tried to do so in March.

About a dozen teenagers in the community attempted suicide on Monday, after the declaration.

Canada's 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up about 4 percent of the country's population, have higher levels of poverty and a lower life expectancy than other Canadians. Health Minister Jane Philpott has said the suicide rates among aboriginal youth were at least 10 times higher than for the general population of young people.

Regional and federal governments sent healthcare workers to the community in response to the state of emergency.

Canadian legislators held a special parliamentary session Tuesday night to address the suicide attempts, calling them "completely unacceptable" and vowing steps to keep them from happening again.

Charlie Angus, a member of parliament whose electoral district includes Attawapiskat, said the attempts on Friday are the result of growing despair in the area due to neglect by the federal government.

"We have to get away from our government attitude that they can sit and wait and wait," he said in an interview.

Attawapiskat has declared five states of emergency since 2006. It previously sounded the alarm over flooding and raw sewage issues, poor drinking water and a housing crisis.

The problems plaguing aboriginals gained prominence in January when a gunman killed four people in La Loche, Saskatchewan. An aboriginal teenager was charged in the shootings.

Local police and Health Canada, the lead federal agency in tackling the suicide attempts, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Angus and Canada's Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a joint statement on Friday they would visit the community.

Shisheesh tweeted hours later: "Busy night at the hospital ... pray for Attawapiskat."

(Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by James Dalgleish and Mary Milliken)