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First Nations leaders hold emergency meeting in Ottawa on mental-health crisis

January 24, 2024
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, centre, looks on during a town hall question-and-answer event with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, not seen, in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2019.DAVID JACKSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

NationTalk: The Canadian Press, OttawaFirst Nations leaders are holding an emergency meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday to discuss a mental-health crisis they warn could get even worse without government help.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation says there has been an alarming spate of suicides and suicide attempts in the northern Ontario First Nations it represents. That includes the suicides of a 12-year-old from Sachigo Lake First Nation and a 20-year-old in Deer Lake First Nation earlier this month.

The group is also raising concerns about recent unexplained deaths of Indigenous youth and how they are being investigated. “Our communities are exhausted – they’ve depleted the resources to support the youth,” the group’s Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in an interview.

“That’s the scale of what we’re dealing with. … It’s becoming too overwhelming, and we need help from Ontario and Canada to help support our communities.”

Fiddler said that more lives will be needlessly lost unless meaningful collective action is taken, and noted Nishnawbe Aski Nation is aware of the existence of youth suicide pacts in some communities.

“If immediate help doesn’t come, we will lose more young people. We’ll have to attend more funerals and try to comfort grieving families.”

He asked a list of political leaders to come to the meeting.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu is expected to attend, along with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, Health Minister Mark Holland and Ya’ara Saks, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. They are slated to meet with chiefs at 1 p.m.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and provincial ministers were invited but aren’t expected to be in attendance, Fiddler said.

Fiddler said he wants the federal and provincial government to commit to a youth forum where community members can speak directly with politicians about what they’re dealing with, and propose solutions.

He also wants changes to how funding is being administered and delivered in a way that empowers communities to implement solutions of their own.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, support is available 24/7 by calling or texting 988, Canada’s national suicide prevention helpline.