Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Canadian First Nations in Crisis


Attawapiskat First Nation
Since the news broke regarding the 11 suicide attempts over the weekend in Attawapiskat First Nation, a northern Ontario community, I have been reading and listening to a number of different news reports on this latest crisis.

Canadian politicians, First Nations politicians, academics and sympathetic Canadians are all weighing in to offer solutions. What I am hearing is the Canadian government should provide more funding to First Nations because what they are given now is wholly inadequate to address all these problems on First Nation reserves. A former Aboriginal Affairs Minister stated that the members of Attawapiskat First Nation should be relocated because they are too isolated and have no possibility for a viable economic economy. Others are saying this is a chronic problem for many First Nations, and Canadians need to put pressure on their government to take action.  The bottom line I get from all this noise is that Canadians and the government should do something about this. 

However, money alone will not solve this crisis without a concrete plan of action created by the community. For example, I know many people who have received over $100K in residential school payments and it didn’t improve their life.  In fact, in some instances it made it worse. 

Everyone is saying they need this and they need that but I have not heard one politician, either Federal or First Nation say, what does Attawapiskat want and how can we support them? What have the parents and youth said about a solution? Who is listening to them? 

Another youth said this about the suicide attempts in her community. It is beyond discouraging to hear her talk about this happening in Canada in the 21 century.  And at the end of the day, members are saying it is not that easy to leave“Just move” is no answer.  This is a complicated set of problems, which I believe can only be effectively resolved by the people within the community.


Members must be engaged in conversations that start with taking responsibility for what is happening in their communities. Until the members take responsibility and collectively decide on a solution  to address these issues, they will continue to have one crisis after another. The community needs first to imagine a future in which their lives have meaning and worth, and then to take all the steps to make that future come into being. There is hope and all lives matter.

My community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta was also affected by youth suicide. Like other First Nation communities there is a sense of overwhelming apathy and hopelessness but we must move pass that if we are to survive. I often hear people in Chip say that these problems are all over the country and not just in Fort Chipewyan. True. The question then becomes what are WE going to do about it? 

There is no one fix, it is a multifaceted and complex issue that requires the ingenuity of the entire community working together to come up with a solution that works for them. 

As a start, Attawapiskat is holding meetings for their members on how to address this crisis.  I hope everyone is engaged and part of these conversations and solutions. Perhaps, a facilitator can assist the community in their meetings to focus on priorities and to develop a structured plan for moving forward.  





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