Politics

Justin Trudeau to meet with Attawapiskat chief, First Nations youth in Ottawa June 13

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be meeting in Ottawa with Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh and a delegation of First Nations youth from several Ontario communities on June 13, his office confirmed Thursday.

Health Minister Jane Philpott is in Attawapiskat today for briefing with First Nations chief and youth

Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh has clinched a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa for June 13. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be meeting with Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh and a delegation of First Nations youth in Ottawa on June 13, his office confirmed Thursday.

"We are looking forward to meeting with the chief and working together to find solutions for the challenges facing the people of Attawapiskat," said Andrée-Lyne Hallé, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, in an email to CBC News.

"We are committed to rebuilding the nation-to-nation relationship, and engaging in true partnership with First Nations peoples across Canada."

Shisheesh has been pushing for a meeting with the prime minister after the First Nations reserve declared a state of emergency in April following a number of cases of drug overdose and suicide attempts by Indigenous youth.

​"A meeting will also be happening, on the same day, with a special delegation of northern Ontario First Nations youth ... that will speak about the challenges they face in their communities," Hallé said.

Trudeau accepted to meet Shisheesh last month, but his office did not make the details public until now. 

News of Trudeau's meeting comes as Health Minister Jane Philpott is in Attawapiskat to see first-hand how the community is doing since it sent in additional health workers into the remote community following the spike in suicide attempts.

Philpott was visiting the northern Ontario community with NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat, and other First Nations leaders.

"Today, I had the opportunity to visit  these communities to see first-hand the difficulties they are facing with respect to social conditions and health," Philpott said in a statement after travelling to Attawapiskat and Kashechewan.

The health minister said she was able to hear from young people, community members, health-care workers and local leaders about how to move beyond crisis response and "begin working toward long-term solutions." 

Young people in Attawapiskat clean up litter around the community. Health Minister Jane Philpott was travelling there Thursday to take stock of health and living conditions. (David Linklater)

Weather permitting, Philpott also plans to travel to the northern Ontario community of Kashechewan.

Hundreds of residents were flown out of Kashechewan and into temporary homes or hotel rooms last month as a precaution ahead of rising floodwaters on the Albany River.

Shisheesh posted a picture on Twitter earlier in the day of his meeting with Philpott, Angus and Alvin Fidler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnwabe Aski Nation, where they are seen sitting around a table discussing future plans for the community's youth.

Adequate health-care lacking

In a phone interview with CBC News, Angus said he hopes the federal health minister will walk away from Thursday's visit with a better understanding of "the bigger health crisis" that is affecting First Nations communities in Ontario who are struggling with "major shortfalls" in health care and mental health services.

"We're dealing with situations where nurses' stations don't have proper medication to support patients, where we've had cases of children with rheumatic fever being given Tylenol and told to go home," Angus said during a stop in Moosonee on his way to Attawapiskat.

"We've had deaths … and we also have the issue of complete lack of health services across Treaty 9."

Angus said that while he was happy to see the community in Attawapiskat receive some much-needed resources after declaring a state of emergency, the underfunding of health and mental health services remains a huge problem.

"I'm hoping that out of the meetings today, we can really impress upon the minister … that this really is an emergency for health services."

NDP MP Charlie Angus says First Nations communities in Ontario are struggling with 'major shortfalls' in health care and mental health services. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Long-term solutions required

The federal government has committed to funding a new, properly equipped youth centre and some programming activities, a key demand from Indigenous youth in the isolated northern Ontario reserve.

In an email Thursday, Health Canada said it is working with community members in Attawapiskat and the province. The health agency said Attawapiskat had a range of continuing supports, as well as additional crisis supports in place from a range of service providers.

The additional crisis supports include more youth workers to provide on-call coverage, additional physician visits, victims services and two extra social workers who rotate into the community.

Asked about the current situation in Attawapiskat, independent Senator Murray Sinclair said there are no quick fixes and that both the federal government and First Nations leaders share in the responsibility of finding long-term solutions.

"I think we need to recognize there are no short-term solutions to the problems that this situation identifies," Sinclair said in a phone interview with CBC News Wednesday.

Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Manitoba's first Aboriginal judge, said Indigenous leaders have reason to be upset with the slow pace of progress.

"We can certainly put in place for the summer time a recreation program and a community centre but in the long-term the young Indigenous people need jobs, they need better housing, they need an opportunity to develop their sense of identity through a proper education system..."

"And we need to ensure that the Indigenous leadership accept their share of the responsibility, that the federal government needs to accept their share of the responsibility — but we can't keep turning to outsiders to solve the problems of Indigenous communities," Sinclair told CBC News.

With files from CBC's Olivia Stefanovich

now