Toronto

Eric Hoskins on Attawapiskat crisis: 'We can't be patient'

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he was "devastated" after hearing about a suicide crisis at the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario and said he's working to get the troubled community the support it needs.

Ontario government has pledged $2 million for mental health support in troubled First Nations community

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins travelled to Attawapiskat Wednesday. 'My intent is to break this crisis, roll up our sleeves and do our best to provide the support they deserve,' he said. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he was "devastated" after hearing about a suicide crisis at the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario and said he's working to get the troubled community the support it needs.

Hoskins visited Attawapiskat Wedenesday along with Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles.

The Ontario government has pledged up to $2 million for mental health support for Attawapiskat. The money is part of the government's response to the state of emergency declared after 11 people attempted suicide there last Saturday night.

The money will pay for continuous mental health support, and night and evening nursing clinical support, including four mental health workers, up to five nurses, two security staff, one communications person and an incident manager. A youth centre will also be set up.

Hoskins said the trip to the remote community of 2,000 people gave him insight into some of the immense challenges the community is facing.

"It was a very difficult trip," said Hoskins in an interview Thursday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "I can't begin to imagine what the community is going through."

"We were all absolutely devastated by the news of the 11 [suicide] attempts on the weekend and the revealing of a suicide pact among more than a dozen young people on Monday," he said. Some of the kids involved in the pact were as young as nine years old.

Hoskins said during the trip he heard from many youth in Attawapiskat who "are pointing us in the direction where we need to go in terms of providing supports and breaking this crisis."

Hoskins said the suicide crisis on the reserve is multi-faceted, and the result of a "whole myriad of complex issues," from a housing crisis in the community to a lack of economic opportunities there.

"Clearly the residential school history has had a devastating impact," Hoskins said. 

"My intent here ... is really to break this crisis, roll up our sleeves and do our best to try to provide the support this community needs."

Hoskins said past attempts to get government help to Ontario First Nations communities have focused on jurisdiction.

"We're working well with the federal government now," he said.

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