On April 9, the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency in response to a spate of suicide attempts among tribal members. Between September 2015 and April 2016, 103 Attawapiskat citizens attempted suicide, with one attempt resulting in fatality. Chief Bruce Shisheesh made the emergency declaration with the hope that the Canadian federal government would dispatch crisis mental health providers to give citizens critically needed care.
The Center for Native American Youth commented on the conditions that resulted in this tragedy through two separate television interviews. CNAY executive director Erik Stegman appeared on Al Jazeera English on April 11, drawing parallels between the Attawapiskat emergency and similar suicide crises that have occurred in tribal communities within the United States. Stegman described the history of broken promises between the federal government and Indian tribes, citing severe structural deficiencies in Indian Country and the erasure of Native cultures and languages as significant influences on the current state of mental health in many Indian tribes. He expressed a hope that the Canadian federal government would look to efforts such as President Obama’s Generation Indgenous initiative as models to prioritize and elevate needs of indigenous youth and communities. Click here for a recording of the interview.
On April 26, CNAY’s Teddy McCullough appeared on CCTV’s The Heat, along with NCAI Policy Director Denise Desiderio, President Dawn Lavell-Harvard of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and Executive Director Cindy Blackstock of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Once again, speakers described a long history of the federal government’s failure to meet the needs of Native youth and communities, and emphasized that responses to those needs should be proactive rather than the reactive response elicited by a declaration of emergency. Click here to watch the video.