Canada has to step up to provide more help for First Nation youth

Photo of opinion writer Angela Lavallee.

Two First Nation youth from Wapekeka First Nation have died by suicide and a case like this is not old news. A 20 -year old in Deer Lake First Nation also took his life recently amidst hopelessness and nowhere to turn. Suicides in First Nation communities are all too common, and despite the promise of financial support of the federal government, not much is being done to help. According to the Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, First Nation youth are five times more likely to die by suicide and he says it’s very disturbing to all Indigenous communities across Canada. Wapekeka is a remote reserve in northern Ontario about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. There is no medical remedy on the reserve for suicide, and once high-risk youth leave for treatment, they are brought back to nothing said Valerie Ooshag to a Nishnawbe Aski-Nation winter Chiefs assembly in Thunder Bay February 2nd 2017. Nishnawbe Aski-Nation represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario. Ooshag is a mental health worker in her community of Fort Hope First Nation and knows first hand what it’s like to lose family members to suicide. “First Nation youth feel helpless and they need more, our people are hurting,” says Ooshag to the group at the all Chiefs meeting. Chief Bellegarde says remote First Nations need more resources and the feds have not done all they can. He says 60 per cent of Indigenous children live in poverty according to the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Indigenous leaders like Chief Bellegarde are asking for $376,000 from Health Canada to aid in suicide prevention and hire more mental health workers as the current workers are exhausted and struggle to commit in helping others. The process is slow. According to Statistics Canada, social inequities, poverty and poor mental health are just some of the risk factors First Nation youth face everyday of their lives. Sadly, many First Nation youth feel isolated and cut off from society and remote reserves like Wapekepa do not have many activities to do, which leaves youth to alcohol and drugs. More can be done to stop the suicides on remote reserves in northern Ontario but without the proper resources, First Nation youth may be left out in the cold. Canada has to do more. First Nation youth deserve a fighting chance at a good life.