Tag Archives: Attawapiskat

Former Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence begins hunger strike over state of community

Former Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence during her hunger strike in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa in 2012. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Spence and band councillor demand end to federal government’s ‘piecemeal’ approach to crises

Former Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence says she is embarking on another hunger strike, this time over the state of her community’s water and infrastructure, along with its ongoing social struggles.

Spence became a focal point of the Idle No More movement after she subsisted on fish broth and medicinal tea from December 2012 to January 2013, demanding a meeting between the prime minister, the Governor General and First Nations chiefs.

Spence held the fast in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa and her actions added fuel to cross-country protests across the country under the Idle No More banner.

Spence began the current hunger strike with Attawapiskat Band Coun. Sylvia Koostachin-Metatawabin on Sunday at midnight.

“We will no longer sit by and watch government groups and officials come in and visit our community only to offer a piecemeal approach to longstanding and ongoing crisis within our community,” said Spence and Koostachin-Metatawabin, in a statement posted on a Facebook page called Reclaiming our Steps, Past, Present and Future.

Attawapiskat’s band council declared a state of emergency last week after water tests showed potentially harmful levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) in the tap water. The chemicals are byproducts produced by the water treatment process when chlorine interacts with the high level of organic materials in the community’s water source.

The community has a separate system specifically for its drinking water supply that is filtered through a reverse-osmosis system and distributed through two water stations where community members can fill up jugs. While still safe, the drinking water is starting to register rising levels of THMs and HAAs.

Attawapiskat has long struggled with high levels of THMs and HAAs and the fix needed to deal with the issue is in the millions of dollars.

Wants senior bureaucrats at the negotiation table

The statement from Spence and Koostachin-Metatawabin demands that senior Indigenous Services Canada management with “budgetary and decision making authorities” meet with Attawapiskat on “major capital investment that encompasses not only with our water crisis, but also focusing on infrastructure and housing.”

The statement said the community also needs commitments on dealing with child welfare, health, mental health and education, along with “the looming genocidal encroachment” of resource development activities on traditional lands.

Danny Metatawabin, who was Spence’s spokesperson during Idle No More, said that Spence and Koostachin-Metatawabin are currently only drinking water.

“But if there is no solution provided by Indigenous Services Canada or provincial officials, then they are going to stop taking water,” said Metatawabin, in a telephone interview from Attawapiskat.

Metatawabin said Spence and Kooostachin-Metatawabin have taken over a vacant De Beers training facility to hold the hunger strike.

“It’s long-standing issues with the Department of Indian Affairs, it’s not just about the recent state of emergency on our water crisis,” he said.

“It’s a multitude of issues.”

By: Jorge Barrera · CBC News · Posted: Jul 16, 2019


Trudeau Announces Nearly $70M Over 3 Years For Indigenous Mental Health Services

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, attends a meeting with some 20 youth from Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in northern Ontario on Monday. (Nishnawbe Aski Nation/Twitter)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, attends a meeting with some 20 youth from Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in northern Ontario on Monday. (Nishnawbe Aski Nation/Twitter)

Announcement comes ahead of meeting with Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh

CBC News Posted: Jun 13, 2016

The Liberal government will invest nearly $70 million in new funding over three years to address the health and suicide crisis involving Indigenous people living on reserve and in the territories, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today following a meeting with Indigenous youth.

“While we will continue to engage Indigenous partners in finding long-term solutions to these pressing issues, we know that urgent action is needed — and it is needed now — to address the health and mental wellness crises being faced by Indigenous people,” Trudeau said in a written statement Monday afternoon.

The announcement comes as Trudeau is meeting with Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh, whose northern Ontario community has seen multiple cases of youth drug overdoses and suicide attempts in recent months.

The new funding will provide “urgently” needed mental health services while the Trudeau government continues to work Indigenous leaders on a long-term plan.

The new measures include:

  • “Four crisis response teams to provide surge capacity for rapid response services and crisis co-ordination in regions in Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut that are identified as having the greatest need.”
  • “An increase in the number of mental wellness teams from 11 to 43 for communities most at risk in order to strengthen community supports.”
  • “Training for existing community-based workers to ensure that care services are provided in a culturally appropriate and competent way.”
  • “The establishment of a 24-hour “culturally safe” crisis response line.”

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose Timmins-James Bay riding includes Attawapiskat, was invited to take part in the prime minister’s meeting with some 20 youth from Nishnawbe Aski Nation from northern Ontario.

“I’m very pleased the prime minister sat down and gave so much time to the Treaty 9 youth. These young people really are ground zero of the catastrophe that is facing Indigenous young people in Canada,” Angus said in a phone interview with CBC News following Trudeau’s announcement.

“It was very moving to see that interaction,” the NDP critic for Indigenous and northern affairs said of the two-hour meeting.

According to Angus, Indigenous youth recounted stories of being denied medical services, of living in overcrowded housing with black mould, of leaving their communities as teenagers to go live in boarding homes.

“They really laid out the substandard inequity that young people are facing and they did it with such dignity,” Angus said.

Angus said today’s announcement is “a good step” but still falls short of the money that should be on the table.

“I’m hopeful but I’m still concerned,” Angus said.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde echoed Angus’ statement in an interview on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“It’s always a good first step, but we’re always going to keep pushing for long-term sustainable strategies,” Bellegarde said.

“We need at least 80 mental wellness teams. We’re going to start preparing again for next year’s federal budget. That’s what it’s going to take to close the gap.”


Statement: Solidarity With Attawapiskat First Nation Youth And Occupy INAC

For the first time in nine days, people from a group called #OccupyINAC emerge from Toronto's Indigenous and Northern Affairs office. (Sakura Saunders/Twitter)

#OccupyINAC emerge from Toronto’s Indigenous and Northern Affairs office. (Sakura Saunders/Twitter)

April 28, 2016

Statement: Solidarity With Attawapiskat First Nation Youth and Occupy INAC

Tiohtià:ke/Montreal – Missing Justice stands in solidarity with Attawapiskat First Nation and the Occupy INAC movement in their calls to address the systemic issues that have led a growing number of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit youth to take their own lives. We call upon the government to fulfill the commitments it has made to Attawapiskat First Nation, to heed the demands of the Occupy INAC movement, and to address ongoing discrimination against Indigenous communities.

Deep and ongoing historic injustices and violence, which have been expressed in discriminatory state policies and practices since colonization, have taken their toll on Indigenous communities. This includes the imposition of the Indian act, residential schools, the 60s scoop, the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in the foster system, inaction on the feminicide against Indigenous women, and chronic underfunding of Indigenous communities. As a result of these contributing factors, Indigenous young people are more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous youth; Two-Spirit youth are particularly vulnerable in this context.

We applaud the gains that have been made by Attawapiskat First Nation and, in particular, Attawapiskat youth. This includes government commitments such as the following: building a youth centre; establishing programming support for cultural and social activities both in the community and on the land; and rehabilitating the local healing centre so it can be used as a treatment centre for those in crisis.

The Occupy INAC movement in Vancouver achieved another important victory, with the Council of Mothers securing a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Canadian Heritage to discuss their demands. As Onodaga mother Jerrilyn Webster states, “The meeting we have secured to discuss funding for Indigenous languages and Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth is a victory. But we know this is not about one meeting, we need long-term commitment and accountability from this government.”

Participants in the Colonialism No More Solidarity Camp continue their peaceful demonstration outside of the INAC office in Regina. Their preliminary demands were met this week, with senior INAC administrators finally meeting with them, as well as re-opening the doors of the INAC office to the public.

We are heartened by the resilience and leadership expressed by Attawapiskat youth and their community, as well as Indigenous communities across Turtle Island, and solidarity demonstrated during the Occupy INAC movement. We send our love to the communities and families that have been impacted by suicide, as well as to young people struggling with depression and other mental health challenges.


‘Another Reason To Live:’ Attawapiskat Teen Struggles For Meaning In Life

Rebecca Hookimaw, 17, poses for a photograph in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Hookimaw began drinking and taking pills and tried to commit suicide before and after the suicide of her sister Sheridan Hookimaw who was 13-years-old. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Rebecca Hookimaw, poses for a photograph in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Thursday, April 21, 2016.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Canadian Press | April 24, 2016

ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. – Thirteen-year-old Sheridan Hookimaw killed herself on the banks of the river that flows through Attawapiskat, ultimately sparking a crisis that has now drawn international attention to her isolated First Nations community.

The sickly girl, who had to be flown out weekly for medical appointments, recorded video messages to her family saying she wanted to end her pain, and telling them not to blame themselves.

Since then, as many as 100 others in Attawapiskat — a community of 2,100 people — have apparently tried to kill themselves, sparking panic among the First Nation’s leaders, who recently declared a state of emergency in a desperate cry for help.

Among them is the big sister Sheridan left behind.

“Every morning when I wake up, when I don’t see my sister there or when I don’t hear her voice, I feel so lonely without her,” Rebecca Hookimaw, 16, says at the home they shared.

“I just tell myself: ‘She’s out of town, she’s at her appointment.’ I still don’t want to believe she’s gone.”

Beyond the grievous personal loss, Hookimaw’s acquaintance with desolation runs deep. Her eyes speak of things no teenager should have to know about.

She grew up with her grandparents rather than with her mom and dad, she says. Her father disappeared from her life, leaving a void, although she vacillates between whether or not it still bothers her.

Her background has also helped her understand why her peers — most from damaged families living in over-crowded, frequently substandard houses in which drug and alcohol addictions wreak havoc — might want to kill themselves.

“I’ve been through that, too,” she says, waving her long black hair from her face. “I started drinking and doing drugs because I couldn’t handle the pain anymore.”

There was also bullying: people called her fat and ugly, she says. Adding to her woes, her four-year-old cousin was killed by a truck a few years ago as she rode her bike on a rutted street — there are no sidewalks and few safe places for kids to play in Attawapiskat.

By last fall, when her sister sought out the means with which to end her life, Hookimaw had already tried suicide several times.

“I never made it through, but my sister did,” she says. “I got mad about it and sad about it, but I’m starting to think that God or whatever didn’t want her to be in pain or suffer anymore, and he gave me another reason to live, I guess.”

Sheridan’s death initially pushed Rebecca to further alcohol abuse — the community is officially dry although liquor can be obtained — but the tragedy also prompted the young woman to try to turn her life around.

Now, she says, she’s trying to support other teens who may be teetering on the edge. She wants them to know that suicide is not the answer.

“I tell people things I can’t even tell myself,” Hookimaw says. “If you ever think about taking your life away, don’t do it. Suicide ends your pain but it will go on to somebody else, and it’s just going to keep on going.”

A few nights ago, yet another teen in Attawapiskat was airlifted for treatment after cutting at her neck. A day earlier, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett had flown in to talk to the chief about the deep-rooted crisis.

Bennett also got an earful from young residents about their wants and needs. Hookimaw delivered an emotional, unscripted speech that came from her heart.

She says she wanted to make it clear that First Nations people are tired of being third-class citizens in their own land.

“People are treating us like we’re nothing. We’re not different from everybody. We’re all human,” she says. “If we were like white or whatever, they’d help us out right away, but we’re native.”

Bennett has gone. The glare of the media is fading, leaving the still-forlorn young woman trying to move beyond the suicide crisis that is weighing on both her and other First Nations communities across Canada.

“I hope everything changes in Attawapiskat one day, because I have little brothers and I don’t want them growing up the way I grew up.”


Toronto Protest Ends, INAC Offices Still Occupied In Winnipeg, Vancouver

For the first time in nine days, people from a group called #OccupyINAC emerge from Toronto's Indigenous and Northern Affairs office. (Sakura Saunders/Twitter)

For the first time in nine days, people from a group called #OccupyINAC emerge from Toronto’s Indigenous and Northern Affairs office. (Sakura Saunders/Twitter)

CBC News Posted: Apr 21, 2016

#OccupyINAC protests ‘same energy’ as Idle No More, says Cree lawyer who was key figure in movement

On Thursday, demonstrators left the Toronto office of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, nine days after they took it over and sparked a protest that has spread across the country.

“The time has come for us to go back to our families and loved ones, and to come out and thank our supporters. Without you, this week of awareness that has spread across the land may never have happened,” read a statement from a group called #OccupyINAC, who say they were directed to leave by youth from Attawapiskat.

But while the occupation in Toronto has ended, groups are still inside buildings in Winnipeg and Vancouver — and a key figure in Idle No More sees similarities to that movement.

“People felt all of the same energy with [as Idle No More]. This need to do something, this need to say something, this need to demonstrate that they exist. We exist. And we are not going to let those things happen and be silent about it,” said Tanya Kappo, a Cree lawyer from Alberta who was involved in Idle No More from its earliest days.

The #OccupyINAC protesters are demanding that Ottawa do more to help Indigenous communities like Attawapiskat, Ont., and Pimicikamak, Man., which have seen multiple suicide attempts in recent months.

Protesters are also camped outside INAC’s Regina office, while ongoing demonstrations keep the department’s Gatineau office closed to the public.

“Due to exceptional circumstances,” those offices are inaccessible to the public but remain operational, the department said on its website.

All other INAC regional offices and business centres are open for regular business.

‘Great sign of support’

Kappo says she supports the #OccupyINAC protests because it was sparked by concern between Indigenous communities.

“The occupation, in my mind, became a great sign of support to people in Attawapiskat,” she said.

“This is a way of getting the message out there in a peaceful way, that comes from a place of support and caring.”

But while Idle No More eventually spread across the country and saw thousands of people join rallies and ‘flash mob round dances,’ so far #OccupyINAC only involves a few dozen on the ground, and many messages of support on social media.

Occupation in Vancouver

In British Columbia, a group with a core of three women and their children have been occupying INAC’s downtown Vancouver office since Monday.

OccupyINAC Vancouver

A group lead by Indigenous women have taken over INAC’s Vancouver office, in solidarity with protests happening across the country. (OccupyINAC/Twitter)

“The children of Attawapiskat amplified the cries of all Indigenous children across Canada and OccupyINAC-Vancouver stand in solidarity with them,” the group said in a statement posted on social media.

Organizers said that they want a meeting with federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly. They also want funding restored to Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth, which was redirected for job training programs under the Harper government. The fund used to support cultural activities for Indigenous youth, mainly through friendship centres.

“Our main goal is to exit INAC with a victory dance,” the statement reads.

Solidarity in Saskatchewan

A fence that had been erected in front of INAC’s Regina building on Tuesday morning has since come down.

The office itself is still closed, but the small group of protesters who are camping outside the building cheered as the fence was taken down Wednesday afternoon.

Regina Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office

Protesters in Regina camp out in front of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office. (Glenn Reid/CBC)

The Regina event was organized by Robyn Pitawanakwat, who said the problems facing Attawapiskat are well known in Saskatchewan communities. Three First Nations in the province also declared mental health emergencies back in March.

“It’s an old story,” she said. “It’s a tired story, but nobody is more tired than the people in these communities. They need help.

Pitawanakwat added that the problem is also rooted in Indigenous people not having control over their own communities.

“The idea that we cannot administrate our own communities and our own funds is ridiculous,” she said. “There are people who have never been to these communities deciding who gets the money and it needs to stop.”

Bennett, Angus visit Attawapiskat

Since the protests began, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has paid a visit to Attawapiskat, joined by NDP MP Charlie Angus.

Bennett said a youth centre and better housing are in the works — but she said she wants continued guidance to form a plan that will address problems in First Nations right across the country.

Indigenous Suicide Inuit 20160418

Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett, left, NDP MP Charlie Angus, centre, and Chief Bruce Shisheesh, right, hold hands as they speak with youth during a recent visit to Attawapiskat, Ont. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

“I’ve committed to setting up a youth advisory committee to help me with priorities and make sure, as we develop plans for young indigenous people, coast-to-coast-to-coast, that I will have their guidance,” she said.

Angus announced that a delegation of Indigenous youth from northern Ontario would be visiting Ottawa soon, where they’ll be hosted by Senator Murray Sinclair.

For Winnipeg, no end in sight

In Winnipeg, where protests began one day after Toronto, around a dozen people remain in INAC’s offices.

Organizers have said little to media but a statement issued on social media lays out their demands, which include the abolishment of the Indian Act, a meeting with the Prime Minister and an end to discrimination against two-spirit people, among others.

“We will continue to assert our sovereign right to occupy this space until the Crown, so-called Government of Canada, and so-called Chief and Council, acknowledge this statement and the commands within,” the statement reads.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan, CBC Manitoba, Wawmeesh Hamilton and The Canadian Press