Indigenous suicide prevention top priority following Liberal convention

Liberal delegates at the party's national convention in Winnipeg voted unanimously on Saturday to make the youth suicide crisis in Indigenous communities a top priority.

Liberal Party now must act on creating tangible strategy to target suicide crisis

Justin Trudeau singing Canada's national anthem on Saturday at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Liberal delegates at the party's national convention in Winnipeg voted unanimously on Saturday to make the youth suicide crisis in Indigenous communities a top priority.

While deciding on a number of Indigenous-focused policies, the prioritizing of suicide prevention means the party must act to create sort of policy by the next biennial convention in two years time.
An indigenous women takes down laundry in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"The resolution is to work on a nation-to-nation basis on creating a national youth suicide prevention strategy," said James Harper, the now former vice-president of youth for the Youth Liberal Party, who forwarded the resolution through the Indigenous Peoples' Commission.

"I felt very honoured that it was going through, deeply impressed with my party, and my colleagues who worked so, so hard," he said.

The resolution mandates to work with Indigenous communities, recognizing the broad and damaging effects of colonialism and the "dismantling of Indigenous languages, cultures and way of life."

It comes in the wake of a wave of youth suicide crises on First Nation reserves across Canada, most notably Attawapiskat in northern Ontario and Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.

Renewed focus on Indigenous policy

Heading into the convention, Indigenous-focused policies were vied to be front and center, occupying 20 per cent of the total proposed resolutions. Some of these included:

  • Immediate repeal of Bill C-51, a motion that did not pass in the sessional vote.
  • Rotate the appointment of the Governor General between anglophones, francophones and Aboriginal peoples.
  • Grant official language status to Aboriginal languages and provide necessary funding for language preservation.
  • Pay for First Nations and Inuit peoples's dental, optical, prescription drug and other health-care costs not covered under universal medicare.
  • Require all Liberal MPs, candidates and nomination contestants to receive training regarding Indigenous policy, history and culture before receiving a green light to run by the party.

All but one resolution passed in sessional voting by the Indigenous Peoples' Commission, meaning those resolutions will also be written into the party policies.

However, since they aren't a priority policy as the suicide prevention motion is, grassroots delegates within the party will have to lobby to their MPs to move forward.

"We have a number of allies in the House of Commons now… we've already had discussions in place," said Suzy Kies, president of the Ontario branch of the Indigenous Peoples' Commission.

She presented on the motion to grant Indigenous languages official status.

"We're looking at solutions, and what's needed now … we're not just working with ministers to make these policies a reality, we're working at the grassroots level."

As the suicide prevention resolution matures into a tangible strategy, Harper is optimistic for the future of Indigenous peoples' in Canada with the Liberal Party.

"The entire party does believe in Indigenous youth and that they can make a difference."