Statement by NDP Deputy Aboriginal Health Critic, Carol Hughes, on Wave of Suicides in Neskantaga

New Democrats say the Conservative government must provide long term assistance to Aboriginal communities like the Neskantaga First Nation, in North Western Ontario, which declared a state of emergency following a recent wave of suicides.

This call for help comes after a second suicide in the space of barely two weeks. Last year alone, the community of 421 was hit by four suicides, seven sudden deaths and over twenty attempted suicides.

Living conditions in Neskantaga remain well below those of other Canadians. Basic services such as access to drinking water, adequate housing, police and mental health services are severely lacking. Nearly half the residents also have a dependency on prescription drugs, according to Chief Peter Moonias. This is unfortunately too common in many Aboriginal communities, and Neskantaga’s problems are not unique.

The aid announced by the Conservative government today remains largely insufficient. Sending nursing and counseling staff is laudable, but what is needed is a long-term plan to combat drug addiction and related problems like suicide, crime and violence. That’s the only way to help these communities recover.

With a population dominated by young people, it is imperative to address these problems in order to broaden their future opportunities. Located in the Ring of Fire, with a large reserve of chromite deposits, the First Nation could benefit from economic spinoffs and employment for their youth if they can work their way past this health crisis.   

In a non-Aboriginal community, a similar situation would not be tolerated and resources would already have been deployed to deal with the situation. New Democrats are calling on the government to act quickly to put an end to this crisis and offer this community better living conditions, comparable to those of other Canadians.