Thunder Bay

Minister of Child Services offers Onigaming support after suicides

Ontario's minister of child and youth services says she's extending more support services to Onigaming First Nation as the community of 450 struggles to cope with four suicides this year.

Ontario First Nations community declared state-of-emergency after 4th suicide this year

Ontario's minister of child and youth services says she's extending more support services to Onigaming First Nation as the community of 450 struggles to cope with four suicides this year.

Tracy MacCharles said her ministry's focus now is on supporting the crisis workers who are trying to help the community deal with the grief and trauma.
Minister of Child and Youth Services Tracy MacCharles said she wants to be proactive and help prevent suicides in First Nations communities. (Ministry of Child and Youth Services)

"They are tired. They are being stretched, and we need to make sure they are well-supported. And in a community of this size, everyone knows everyone in it. There's going to be a personal story there."

"These are real families affected by real tragedies and the crisis workers are part and parcel of that I understand in most cases as well, so they need specific support."

'Can't imagine how difficult'

MacCharles said news of the latest death, an 18-year-old, came as people were still grieving the suicide death of a 12-year-old in September.

"I can't imagine how difficult that was for the community. I understand the community was holding a walk for healing, along the highway, before a presentation. And the presentation, interestingly enough was on mental health services and what's available to anyone thinking of suicide. And it was during the presentation they found out there had been another death."

MacCharles said the provincial government is coordinating its response with Health Canada.

She said they are increasing the number of crisis workers offering mental health services at the school.

"We've had someone in there for awhile, the last few Mondays at the school and I've directed that additional resources be brought in, so we've added a second person full-time until the end of the school year. And the chief is also assigned someone so in total there should be three people now providing mental health support and crisis support right in the school."

'Proactive, prevention services'

MacCharles said she is working with First Nations communities and leaders to develop a very specific aboriginal children and youth strategy, which would include a mental health component.

"I'd rather us not be in a reactive mode. I want communities to have proactive, prevention services...but I want them all brought together in a much more coordinated and proactive way when it comes to aboriginal youth."

Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation is about 400 km northwest of Thunder Bay.

The community declared a state-of-emergency in late October, to deal with the suicide crisis.

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