First Nations in northern Ontario are calling for emergency relief after several young people, including a 10-year-old girl, died by suicide in recent weeks.
The Northwest Local Health Integration Network report from 2010 showed the suicide rate for some First Nations in the area is 50 times the Canadian average for children under 15 years old.
A meeting of chiefs from the 49 First Nations that make up the Nishnawbe Aski Nation began this week in Thunder Bay, Ont., with prayers for the families of five youth who have died by suicide since December.
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"Many of these are young girls and our babies," said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, noting that two 10-year-olds have died by suicide in less than two years.
"I can't even imagine what those families and those communities are going through," he said. "To bury a 10-year-old child that died by suicide is something I can't even begin to comprehend."
Another recent suicide took place in Neskantaga First Nation, one of the Nishnwabe Aski Nation communities, where a 14-year-old girl died on Jan. 9.
"You don't expect a 14-year-old to be lost in that way," said Chief Wayne Moonias. "Nobody expected it and it has been difficult. The community had to pull together."
In the past 10 years, Neskantaga First Nation has lost 13 people to suicide, and few people remain untouched by grief. The girl who died recently is the child of Moonias's cousin and close to his own children, he said.
"Our community is in a state of crisis," Moonias said. "This brings back a lot of flashbacks for our people … including staff."
Moonias and other chiefs are calling for emergency response to suicides similar to the way governments respond to other disasters such as floods or forest fires.
Chiefs say outside resources, such as mental health workers and crisis co-ordinators, are needed, along with the money to pay them.
Without that help, First Nations can't recover from one suicide before another occurs, Fiddler said.
"That 10-year-girl who committed suicide in Bearskin Lake, she has siblings. I want to make sure that those siblings get the help that they need so they don't [get into] a high-risk situation themselves," he said.