The northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat has declared a state of emergency amidst a suicide epidemic which has seen over 100 suicide attempts in the community since last September.  11 suicide attempts were made this past Saturday alone.  And on Monday night, 13 youths, including a 9-year-old child, were detained by police in an effort to thwart an ongoing suicide pact.

Make no mistake. The mental health crisis occurring in Attawapiskat is a result of Canada’s horrifying colonial legacy.  Intergenerational trauma created by forced relocation, the removal of children from their families by the residential school system, and other destructive colonial practices continues to negatively impact the health of Indigenous communities.

Systemic discrimination against Indigenous people is alive and well, and we need to look no further than Attawapiskat to be convinced of that. Remote First Nations communities like Attawapiskat do not have access to the basic standard of living afforded to other Canadians. The people of Attawapiskat face high levels of unemployment, substandard infrastructure, issues with potable water, barriers to education, and a chronic housing shortage. The provincial and federal governments have directly contributed to the crisis in Attawapiskat by failing to provide the same level of public services and social supports to First Nations communities that exist elsewhere.

Over the past year, the United Nations has condemned Canada’s treatment of First Nations people and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that the federal government systematically discriminates against Indigenous people by failing to provide equal resources and funding to children on reserves. While the provincial and federal governments sent additional mental health workers to Attawapiskat this week, and the provincial government has just announced the allocation of $2 million in emergency funding, these temporary solutions do little to address the systemic problems at the root of this crisis.

During the last federal election, the Liberal government promised “a renewed relationship” with First Nations. But the recently-delivered budget falls far short of the funding needed to level the playing field for Indigenous people. This is shameful.

CUPE Ontario and the CUPE Ontario Aboriginal Council stand in solidarity with Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities.  As Ontario’s community union, we know that strong public services are necessary for communities grow and thrive. We urgently demand that the provincial and federal governments take immediate steps to provide adequate public services and social supports to First Nations communities, and to end the systematic discrimination negatively impacting the health and well-being of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.