Manitoba First Nation declares state of emergency to deal with 'suicide crisis'

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WINNIPEG — A remote Indigenous community in northeastern Manitoba has declared a state of emergency to deal with what the chief is calling a suicide crisis.

Chief Eric Redhead of the Shamattawa First Nation says a seven-year-old child attempted to take its own life and was rushed to hospital in Winnipeg on Monday night. The child was still unresponsive on Tuesday, he said.

Redhead said his own sister, a 32-year-old mother of four, killed herself earlier this month.

When there is one death by suicide in a community, it can often cause a "domino effect" in which more people attempt it, the chief said.

"We are concerned about that."

Crisis teams from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations, and Keewatin Tribal Council were heading to the community.

The chief called for immediate help from the federal government, including mental-health support specifically for children and teens.

Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson said she would look into the state of emergency.

Redhead said a 12-year-old child committed suicide in 2019, the year he first took office. A lot of programs were brought in following the death, he said, but pressures have mounted with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Redhead said health staff in the community are exhausted.

Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said there has been an uptick in suicides and attempts, especially among remote First Nations that have less access to mental-health services.

"The pandemic has exposed the gaps that exist in our First Nations and that mental and emotional health is an area that we really need to address," he said.

"The youth in our communities are really suffering."

The chiefs said resources must be put in place for the long term that would allow for communities to be flexible in delivering services.

"If we really want to get a grip on these things we need to get control," Redhead said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press