• "Our staff is breaking down emotionally": Attawapiskat's chief Bruce Shisheesh. (The Point)Source: The Point
The Canadian community of Attawapiskat that has been shaken by high suicide rates, is now facing ‘suicide pacts’ among its youth.
Malarndirri McCarthy

13 Apr 2016 - 8:34 AM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2016 - 8:45 AM

It was 10pm in Canada when I called to interview the Chief of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario.

Chief Bruce Shisheesh's first words were: "I have to go, there's been another incident." 

By incident he meant that another group of young people had made a suicide pact and were being brought into the Attawapiskat hospital and the local police needed Chief Shisheesh's assistance.

"Our staff is breaking down emotionally. I’m talking about Councillors. Staff is unable to think. And they forget easily. Unable to sleep properly. Eating habits are not normal. High stress levels," says Chief Shisheesh.

Attawapiskat has seen 28 suicide attempts in March and more than 100 since September.

The former Chief of Attawapiskat was Therese Spence and she held a hunger strike in December 2012 to get the then Harper Canadian government to spend more on education and health care for her people.

Her protest was aimed at bringing First Nations issues into the public domain.

Australia facing the same suicide crisis as Canada's native communities, says mental health expert
In Canada, the Chief of the First Nations Attawapiskat community has declared a state of emergency because the rate of suicide among his people is out of control.

Now Chief Shisheeh's call for a state of emergency for Attawapiskat has caused passionate debate in the Canadian parliament.

Charlie Angus - the Member for Timmins- James Bay which takes in Attawapiskat, aimed the question directly at the Health Minister, Jane Philpott.

"What's it going to take to end this cycle of crisis and death among young people? What are the concrete steps for the long term that they're going to put not just in Attawapiskat, but in all the Indigenous communities of this country?"

The Canadian Government spends $8.4 billion dollars of its budget on Indigenous communities.

But Mr Angus questioned why it had to take an emergency situation to send in a few extra medical staff to relieve the current health staff.

One of those relief nurses is Crystal Culp, who flew in from Moose Factory on Tuesday just under an hour's flight away.

Ms Culp spoke to NITV News about the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and says that, "there are between 15 to 18 beds in Attawapiskat Hospital, and a number of patients have had be evacuated already to the larger hospital in Moose Factory."

Ms Culp has worked as a nurse in the region for seven years, she says: "The issues Attawapiskat is facing is not new to First Nations communities. But what is new is that Attawapiskat youth are taking it further in the form of suicide pacts."

"We have not been sure of what kind of help has been the right kind of help. Obviously we haven't done a good job at trying to get them the help that they want and that they need, so this, the crisis right now with the youth who are attempting suicide and seems like they are making up groups of young people who are making these pacts from what I hear and attempting suicide in groups now is what is happening and it's more than what the staff here can handle at one time."