From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Thu Nov 30 07:43:52 2000
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2000 00:54:44 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Jim Jaszewski <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Fwd: [LLO] A New Record for Suicides in Canada
Comments: To: act-cuts-ont-l <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 17:06:52 EST
Subject: [LLO] A New Record for Suicides in Canada
Labour Left Opposition - http://CLC_LO.listbot.com
PIKANGIKUM, Ont. (CP) - A rash of suicides on this remote Ojibwa
a disaster that may earn the community the dubious
distinction of having the highest suicide rate in the world, says an
international expert on aboriginal suicide.
Less than a week after issuing a scathing criticism of the Canadian
government for its treatment of Labrador's Innu, British
sociologist Colin Samson said Pikangikum First Nation's suicide
through the roof, even surpassing the rates in
Davis Inlet and Sheshatshiu.
In Pikangikum, eight females - five of them 13 years old - have killed themselves this year.
A November 1999 report co-authored by Samson for Survival International, a U.K.-based watchdog, called for immediate government action after it found an Innu suicide rate of 178 per 100,000 people between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s.
That's the highest documented rate in the world, says the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Suicidology.
But Pikangikum, a community of 2,000 people 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has an eight-year average of 213 suicides per 100,000 people between 1992 and 2000, and a nine-year average of 205 suicides per 100,000 people in the period between 1991 and this month, two independent Canadian experts said this week.
The latest Pikangikum suicides has sent this year's rate soaring to 470 deaths per 100,000.
That's 36 times the national average of 13 per 100,000, and in a city of three million people, would mean 14,100 deaths this year.
Michael Kral, a national expert on suicide who teaches psychology at the University of Windsor, calculated the nine-year average based on data from Health Canada, the department responsible for native health care.
At this point it's off the scale, he said, adding the
impact of suicide on the community has been
Suicide is like a person - a spirit, says Kevin Suggashie, 28,
who once tried to take his own life. Now he helps organize
Pikangikum's nightly youth patrol.
I don't think there's ever going to be a time when
there's not going to be suicides here, he said.
The existence of the patrol is a grim testament to how entrenched suicide has become in Pikangikum culture; it is also, for many youth who have tried suicide, the thin line of hope between themselves and despair.
Since 1995, young volunteers have scoured the community almost every night trying to stop the dying. They also target the huddles of gas-sniffers whose spine-chilling howls permeate the community at night, but the young addicts often scatter into the darkness before patrollers can reach them.
At peak suicide times like this summer and fall, there's an
attempt or two every night, and now, in mid-November, the attempts are
down to a few a week, Suggashie says.
The problem, while worst in Pikangikum, is region-wide.
On Monday, another 13-year-old girl took her life in Summer Beaver, a reserve 300 kilometres east of Pikangikum, bringing the total suicides on northern Ontario reserves this year to 25.
This is the worst year on record (for suicide), said Arnold
Devlin, of Dilico Child and Family Services in Thunder Bay.
The Pikangikum youth patrol, which receives no funding, can't begin to address the problem. The community has only three mental-health workers - one of them part-time
It's very very difficult, says band councillor Sam Quill,
62, his eyes welling with tears.
Quill, who recalls Pikangikum's first rash of youth hangings in 1993 and 1994, saw his daughter and granddaughter take their lives this fall.
Suicide and gas-sniffing among aboriginal youth has made headlines recently after Innu leaders in Sheshatshiu asked government social workers to remove gas-addicted children from the community.
A massive rise in female suicides on Ontario reserves- all eight Pikangikum deaths this year were female, five of them 13 years old - is a sign that the problem is getting much worse, say regional mental health workers.
When young women who are the bearers of life start to kill
themselves, it's a real reflection on the health of the
community, said Devlin.
Devlin, who calculated Pikangikum's eight-year average suicide rate at 213 per 100,000 people, said the increase in female suicide is related to Third World conditions now prevalent on Canadian reserves like Pikangikum.
Recent studies on aboriginal female suicide link them to the lack
of necessities of good health - such as education and clean water -
which Pikangikum doesn't have, he said.
An oil leak in Pikangikum's water treatment plant Oct. 3 left the entire community without drinking water. Last March, another oil leak was discovered in the crawl space at the community's only school.
The school has been closed ever since, and was due to open this month. That date's now been pushed back because the community does not have adequate electricity to operate the machinery to fix the school, leaders said.
Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault visited the community Oct. 11, when it was estimated the water problem would be resolved within six to eight weeks, community leaders said.
But Chief Peter Quill and Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nancy Pine said that date's been pushed back indefinitely.
Meanwhile, drinking water shipments flown in by Indian Affairs since Oct. 5 have been erratic due to bad weather; many people are drinking untreated lake water, also known to be contaminated, or buying their water at the local store for $5.99 for a four-litre jug.
Pine said the minister addressed the suicide epidemic by asking band leaders for a proposal for a community recreation facility, and added he advised the community to apply for funding from other federal and provincial departments.
In September, Nault said the suicides in Pikangikum were under the purview of Health Canada, not Indian Affairs.
James Adams, regional director of Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch - the branch currently under internal review in connection with a fraud investigation at a Manitoba treatment centre - was unavailable for comment Monday.
Stan Beardy, the grand chief of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, says he's not surprised Pikangikum's suicide rate ranks among the highest in the world.
Something is very drastically wrong there, he said.
In the world, Canada always portrays itself as No. 1 for quality of
life and health. But at the reserve level, it's 62nd - it's
Third World conditions.
To Samson of Survival International, government inaction in Pikangikum is just one more sign Canada's unfathomable disregard for native health.
There is a massive cultural denial in Canada (on native health)
that extends to the highest level, he said during a visit to
Sheshatshiu last week.
In all my dealings with the Canadian government over the last seven
years, I've been met with a stony silence.