By Carey Marsden
Imagine this: seven students at a Toronto high school with more than 400 kids commit suicide while 27 others attempt suicide in the span of one year.
“You’d have an emergency response,” former Liberal leader Bob Rae said. “And you’d have a long term response. There would be some government response, a group of people who are responsible and accountable and who have some money to say ‘well let’s see what we can do to solve this problem.’”
But First Nation leaders say that is not happening in Neskantaga First Nation. The fly-in community, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, has been under a state of emergency for more than a year.
First Nations leaders are in Toronto calling for actions after 10 youth have committed suicide since spring, 2013.
“There is people in Neskantaga,” Chief Peter Moonias said. “There are real people who have problems.”
Moonias lost his own son, Duane Moonias, to suicide on December 26, 2013. His grand-daughter, Alyssa Moonias, 16, took her own life in April.
A trauma team has been in place since the state of emergency was declared, but officials say the basic necessities of life are not in place and that is the problem.
Judy Finlay, an associate professor at Ryerson University says you can’t talk about youth suicides without talking about the fundamental issues.
“There is still not proper nutritious food, there still isn’t drinking water, there is still mould in houses, still crowding in the houses,” she said. “Kids at age 14 have to leave their community to go to school.”
Rae, who spoke at the Call for Action event at the Park Hyatt hotel in Toronto on Tuesday said there needs to be a response from both levels of government. He said the band council doesn’t have the means, the budget or the people to make the changes necessary.
Chief Moonias said almost half a million dollars has gone to the community from the federal government but is dispersed among various agencies and organizations to help the First Nation.
“That sent a counsellor or trauma people into the community. Most of the money is being spent on airfares or travel dollars and charters,” he said. “It doesn’t directly assist the community.”
Out of the 420 people that live on the reserve, 60 per cent are youth. The chief says substance abuse is a big problem. While there are programs in place to help with addictions, there is not a treatment centre in the community to deal with continuing care and support.
“There is no aftercare program. It’s a much needed program. When these people get off the drug…they need to be looked after,” he said.