Help promised to members of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation has still not arrived.  The community has lost six of its own to suicide since December and declared a state of emergency this week.

On Wednesday, Cross Lake's acting chief, Shirley Robinson pleaded with Health Canada to send a crisis team to the remote First Nation, where more than 100 young people are on a suicide watch list.


The northern Manitoba community of Pimicikimak is grieving after a number of suicides and suicide attempts among young people., and it's calling out for help. (CBC )

Manitoba Minister of Family Services Kerri Irvin-Ross said on Wednesday a mobile crisis unit was on its way to Cross Lake from Thompson, Man.

But on Thursday, members of the community are saying no resources are there yet.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said members of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, have also reached out to the Northern Regional Health Authority. But, he said those fit to respond "wanted to confirm how … support would be best deployed before [going] to the community."

"We deploy people to communities on a priority basis and that's what we're doing right now," Selinger said, noting he believes Pimicikamak has "their own people that are working on the ground."

An agreement has been reached between the health authority and the people of Cross Lake, Selinger said, and support workers are expected to go there "at the desire [and timing] of the community."

Help may last for a concentrated period of up to eight weeks, Selinger said.

Complete overhaul in child welfare

In the aftermath of the suicides, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she is working with Cindy Blackstock, an aboriginal child, youth and family researcher and educator, to create a plan for what she calls a complete overhaul in child welfare.

Two of the the six suicides since December involved teens in the care of child and family services, while one case involved a mother whose children had CFS involvement, according to a briefing note from the community's band office.

"There are more kids in care [in Canada] than at the height of residential schools," Bennett said.

"It has to stop."

Cultural identity, Bennett said, is essential to health, education and positive economic outcomes. 

"We need people to feel good about who they are as indigenous youth," she said.

In addition to Blackstock, Bennett said she is calling on the Assembly of First Nations and various provinces, territories and advocates for children to contribute to the plan.

Hope declines during spring break

Canada's Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, said a break from school in March will only further an overwhelming sense of isolation and "nothing to do" on Pimicikamak. 

"Kids are at a loss with so few recreation facilities," she said. 

There are a number of organizations, including Manitoba Hydro and the Red Cross, that are working to develop programs in time, she said.

"[They are] making a concerted effort … to address immediate social needs in the community," she said.

In the meantime, Philpott said the number of health care professionals in Cross Lake is increasing, and that nurses are regularly available at the reserve's nursing station.

Health Canada responds to call for help

On Friday, Health Canada spokesperson, Keith Conn said Health Canada is supporting Cross Lake.

The agency has sent in four more mental health therapists and while the Northern Health Region Authority is sending in four crisis counsellors, he said. 

When asked why Health Canada wasn't more proactive in sending a crisis team sooner, Conn said Health Canada doesn't act unilaterally but works with the community to answer the call for help. 

"We don't think it's best to do something into a community. We think it's best to work with a community when the community defines their needs. So we want to be respectful and respond accordingly," Conn said.

Conn said a mental health therapist is available ten days a month in Cross Lake. Six additional therapists will visit the community within the next two days. 

with files from Cameron MacIntosh, Karen Pauls and Angela Johnston