Cree Communities Launched And Funded Own Inquiry Into ‘Suicide Pandemic’

Since 2009, approximately 600 people have attempted to take their own lives in Mushkegowuk territory along the western coast of James Bay. (Treaty 9 Diaries)

Since 2009, approximately 600 people have attempted to take their own lives in Mushkegowuk territory along the western coast of James Bay. (Treaty 9 Diaries)

By Tim Fontaine, CBC News Posted: Mar 16, 2016

Faced with hundreds of suicide attempts, Mushkegowuk Council launched The Peoples Inquiry

They established their own inquiry to find out why hundreds were attempting to take their own lives, but a “suicide pandemic” continues to grip seven Cree communities in Northern Ontario.

Five people have taken their lives in the past three months.

“My future is dying right in front of me,” says Jonathan Solomon, Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, which first declared a state of emergency six years ago.

Just over 6,000 people live in the communities, which dot the western coast of James Bay. But between 2009 and 2011, there were over 600 suicide attempts, with many ending their lives.

In 2013, the Mushkegowuk Council established a People’s Inquiry to explore the roots of the suicide crisis and hear how community members wanted to address it.

That inquiry has released its final report and the Mushkoweguk Council wants action.

The People’s Inquiry

Without government funding, the Mushkegowuk raised their own money to select four commissioners, hold public hearings and hire Moose Cree First Nation member Nellie Trapper as the co-ordinator.

‘I saw my own family go through the grief, all the anger.’– Nellie Trapper, inquiry co-ordinator

“I actually have personal experience; I lost my son to suicide,” Trapper says. “Jan. 4, 2009. He had just turned 17.”

That loss drove her to be involved with the People’s Inquiry and also helped her relate to the over 230 people who shared their own stories during the public hearings, which took place in all seven of the Mushkegowuk communities.

“I saw my own family go through the grief, all the anger.”

Next steps

When the commissioners released their final report in January 2016, among other things, it pointed to the history of residential schools, the loss of language and culture, and substance abuse as factors leading to suicide. But it also included practical steps individuals, leaders, and communities could take to combat the problem.

Individuals were asked to seek counselling if they’ve suffered sexual abuse. They’re urged to learn the Cree language or to find ways to be self-sufficient when it comes to housing, like “living off the grid.”

Communities were encouraged to set up support networks for men, women, youth, and elders, introduce cultural activities and Cree immersion into schools and promote indigenous-based healing.

Leaders were asked to be more supportive of LGBT or two-spirited community members, find resources for counselling and allocate funding to cultural activities.

Trapper says her community, Moose Cree First Nation, has already begun to take the People’s Inquiry recommendations into consideration when crafting mental wellness policies. She hopes other Mushkegowuk communities will follow suit after an upcoming First Nation health summit taking place in Timmins at the end of March.

“The inquiry is done. Now is this going to just sit on the shelf and collect dust or are you going to implement?”

But Trapper also says those communities should get the financial resources from government to make that happen.

Ongoing emergency

While the inquiry has wrapped, the state of emergency still stands and was recently reissued after the deaths of five people in Mushkegowuk communities since Christmas.

“We’re beginning to see even older folks take their lives,” Solomon says. “That’s a very sad situation.”

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes those communities, raised the issue in the House of Commons on Feb. 25, calling on the federal government to meet with Mushkegowuk leaders and increase health funding to First Nations across Northern Ontario.

“What commitment will they make to close that gap in the coming budget and why will they not meet with the leadership now and commit to ending this discrimination once and for all?” said Angus.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/cree-communities-launched-funded-own-inquiry-into-suicide-pandemic-1.3492604?cmp=abfb

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One thought on “Cree Communities Launched And Funded Own Inquiry Into ‘Suicide Pandemic’

  1. Corey Tarbell

    I may have a place for someone to start looking into the mental health of these people. It all started from the national energy act of 1977 executive order of president jimmy carter in that act it says insulate 90 percent of homes and all new homes. And Canada followed.When you tighten up a home there is no oxygen getting replaced and is affecting the brain from prolonged low level exposures of harmful gases in the young this can cause all kinds of mental health issues including adhd Alzheimer’s, learning problems, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety and many more problems. Most band councils try to follow current codes and if you look back in that time frame 1980-1993 all the studies show dramatic increase in all these diseases. What I believe is that First Nations has overcrowding small tight houses probably with wood burning appliances causing high depletion of oxygen in the homes which is causing depression at a greater scale than anyone can imagine look into how these people live and air quality I’m not sure if this may be reversible or not but somewhere to start looking. Building codes never before came from an executive order hope this can help someone.

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