5 more Attawapiskat youth attempt suicide in 'spiralling situation'

Five children tried to take their own lives Friday evening at the Attawapiskat First Nation, its chief said, nearly a week after the community declared a state of emergency over repeated suicide attempts.

'I don't want to ever lose someone from suicide again' says 14-year-old

Attawapiskat teen speaks out on youth suicides

6 years ago
Duration 2:08
Clarissa, 14, whose 13-year-old cousin committed suicide last October, says residential schools are to blame

Five children tried to take their own lives Friday evening at the Attawapiskat First Nation, its chief said, deepening a crisis in the small community over repeated suicide attempts. 

Chief Bruce Shisheesh confirmed the fresh suicide attempts in a brief telephone conversation with Reuters on Saturday. It was not immediately clear how old the children are.

The community, on James Bay in remote northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency a week ago after 11 of its members attempted suicide in one weekend and 28 tried to do so in March.

About a dozen teenagers in the community attempted suicide on Monday, after the declaration.

A lot of young people nowadays feel like nobody cares for them- Clarissa, age 14

"We need changes before it gets too late. I don't want to ever lose someone from suicide again," Clarissa, age 14, told a CBC reporter last week. Her cousin was just 13 when she took her own life last October.

Sunday Scrum on Attawapiskat state of emergency

6 years ago
Duration 12:54
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"A lot of young people nowadays feel like nobody cares for them and like, most of them feel unloved," she said.

Clarissa said she believed elders in the community have difficulty demonstrating their love because of their own treatment as children in residential schools.

Legacy of residential schools

"The parents are not to blame for that. It's residential school, because our elders, people that attended residential school -- they didn't get the love that they needed," she said.

"Instead of getting hugged, they got beaten up, they got sexually abused," she added.

Regional, provincial and federal governments sent support and crisis workers to the community in response to the state of emergency. The Ontario government has pledged $2 million over the next two years for health support and a youth centre for the community.

Shisheesh tweeted Friday: "Busy night at the hospital.... Pray for Attawapiskat."

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett is scheduled to arrive in the community on Monday, accompanied by local MP Charlie Angus. 

People pass by the secondary school in Attawapiskat, Ont., a remote reserve near James Bay. Chief Bruce Shisheesh says he is hopeful a planned meeting with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett will be the beginning of real change for Attawapiskat. (CBC)

Speaking from Cobalt, Ont., on Sunday, Angus said the plan is to meet with the council and chief but also to hear the voices of young people in the community. He lauded the efforts of a local youth council that is reaching out to peers with words of comfort about the suicide attempts.

He called the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat "a spiralling situation that is taking us into unknown territory."

"It shows us that we're still dealing with a very unstable and volatile situation with the young people and certainly, it's causing, I think, a great deal of emotional trauma for the front line workers, for the leadership and among the youth themselves in the community," Angus told CBC News.

He called for the federal and provincial government to devote attention to the community in the longer-term, saying too often in the past resources and health professionals were pulled out of the community after the immediate crisis was over.

"This is the moment when the Canadian government needs to really get its act together and move out of the comfort zone of short-term promises and statements," Angus said.

Attawapiskat has declared five states of emergency since 2006. It previously sounded the alarm over flooding and raw sewage issues, poor drinking water and a housing crisis.

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With files from Reuters