ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. — A suicide pact by 13 young aboriginal people, including a nine-year-old, has been thwarted on a remote First Nation in northern Ontario where local leaders say they’re so overwhelmed by the suicide crisis that extra police officers have been called in from nearby communities.
Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said the youths were overheard making a pact to kill themselves on Monday and police brought them to the local hospital in Attawapiskat for an evaluation.
But the hospital was already treating other patients who had attempted suicide in recent days and couldn’t see all of the new arrivals, Achneepineskum said, so about half of them temporarily waited in jail for treatment, the only other place where officials felt their safety could be secured.
“There are so many things that are needed here,” she said. “So many things.”
Achneepineskum said the entire community of about 2,000 in the James Bay region is so overwhelmed by the rash of suicide attempts that three of the four health-care workers were sent to Thunder Bay for counselling and rest as reinforcements came in to help.
“They were physically and emotionally exhausted,” she said.
The Attawapiskat chief declared a state of emergency Saturday evening, citing the community’s 11 suicide attempts so far in the month of April and 28 recorded attempts in March.
Achneepineskum, a deputy grand chief with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political organization that represents 49 First Nations communities including Attawapiskat, had already made plans a month ago to come into the community to talk about the crisis when the latest wave of suicide attempts was reported.
Not she’s trying to help out any way she can.
“There is no youth mental health worker, there is no recreation co-ordinator. There’s a few people that are taking it upon themselves to organize little activities for the young people, but we need more help,” she said.
“One of the first things we’re working on is for government to commit to more staff to be available, not just for this crisis, but on a long-term, consistent basis.”
Later on Tuesday, her group will talk to the teachers at the local school.
“One of the main things is we have to allow the teaching staff to bring up their concerns and for us to gather suggestions and recommendations from them as to how we can start working with the school,” she said.
A boy who was airlifted out on the weekend after trying to kill himself is set to return to Attawapiskat on Tuesday, Achneepineskum said.
“What happens to him?” she asked. “We’ve heard of some where they come home and that night they’re back at the hospital again because they attempted suicide.”
Achneepineskum said some of the young people who made the suicide pact have been released back to their parents, while others are being treated for a variety of mental health issues.