Tragedy has struck Neskantaga First Nation again, less than a year after a series of suicides and suicide attempts forced a state of emergency.
The son of Chief Peter Moonias — 29-year-old Dwayne Moonias — took his life last month. The incident has led to renewed calls for more comprehensive suicide prevention measures.
The Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Harvey Yesno, said Moonias was a talented musician and a leader on NAN's youth council — and his death has shocked the Neskantaga community.
Yesno said teams that responded to the suicide crisis in Neskantaga last spring helped people deal with their grief, but remote communities need longer-term support.
"It can't be just ... fly in, fly out... crisis intervention,” he said.
Yesno said Neskantaga and other First Nations have identified actions to help prevent suicide, ranging from ongoing mental health and addictions counselling to economic development.
But they need sustainable human and financial resources to make them happen, he noted.
National strategy on suicide prevention
Former Liberal leader Bob Rae — now a negotiator for First Nations on Ring of Fire development issues — agrees.
After attending Dwayne Moonias’s funeral in Neskantaga, he wrote a public call to action on suicide prevention.
"The province and the federal government and all public health agencies have to take this issue far more seriously," he told CBC News on Tuesday.
Rae said when people are struggling with high rates of unemployment and don't have viable ways to earn a living, "taking your own life becomes one option. And it should never be an option on the table. And it's something that we have to deal with."
He is calling for a national strategy on suicide prevention, as he says the problem affects all of Canada, at particularly high rates in First Nations across the country.
Rae said he has visited Neskantaga First Nation several times and that it “is a community that's faced a lot of challenges going back a long, long time in terms of abuse and ... deep poverty [and] the impacts have taken a strong hold on the community.”
But it is only one of many First Nation communities struggling with similar issues.
"The reality is that, for many, many people in the communities across the far North, these are post-traumatic stress situations,” Rae said.
“There's been ... the trauma historically of discrimination and abuse. The trauma of residential schools. The trauma of abusive and difficult situations. The trauma of deep poverty and hopelessness. And that's really what can take hold and it wreaks havoc."
'There's been ... the trauma historically of discrimination and abuse.' - Bob Rae, First Nations mediator and former Liberal leader.
Yesno said he agrees with Rae's position that the government needs to deal with "legacy issues" in the communities, such as building infrastructure and addressing economic and resource development.
A major issue is the human resources "gap" in First Nations communities, as the people lack the experience and training required for jobs, Yesno said.
Addressing those kinds of issues is critical, Rae added.
"You've got to put ... suicide in a broader social context, and so addressing it means dealing with a whole bunch of other issues,” he said.
“Dealing with education and jobs, dealing with the need to get people ready for education and jobs, dealing with the underlying social problems, dealing with addiction, dealing with patterns of abuse, dealing with the consequences of that abuse.”
Rae added that doing so “will take an unprecedented effort on the part of everyone, including the communities themselves."