A local politician is calling on Premier Doug Ford to help stop youth suicides in northern First Nation communities and to provide necessary mental health supports as soon as possible.
“This year we have had multiple young people die by suicide in Eabametoong, Webequie and Wunnumin Lake, and Poplar Hill. The mental health crisis that exists across the North is not letting up,” said Kiiwetinoong MPP and the NDP’s Indigenous and Treaty Relations Critic, Sol Mamakwa.
The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority says there have been 562 suicide deaths in the Kiiwetinoong riding over the past 35 years. Across Canada, First Nations people have a suicide rate of 24 per 100,000 – three times higher than the average rate of 8 per 100,000 in Canada.
Mamakwa says in his riding and his communities, that rate is much higher. In September 2018, after the suicide death of a 13-year-old in Bearskin Lake First Nation, Mamakwa said communities in his riding had a suicide rate for children under the age of 15 that was 50 times higher than the national average – calling the situation a mental health crisis.
“The current resourcing for mental health supports is completely inadequate. The premier must stop ignoring the suicide epidemic in the North and provide support and funding for First Nations in Ontario who are dealing with this crisis on their own.”
In response, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Christine Elliott notes Ontario has pledged $3.8 billion in additional mental health and addictions funding over the next ten years to help address the crisis, with an increased focus on First Nation communities.
“We know that we are losing far too many young people from suicide as a result of mental health concerns and some addiction concerns, and this is particularly critical in many First Nation communities,” said Elliott, during Question Period at Queen’s Park.
“We have taken action on our own with our Roadmap to Wellness, our guide to mental health and addictions supports for people across Ontario, and we recently announced another $147 million to expand access to the provincial mental health and addictions system for families to address issues people have faced specifically from the [COVID-19] pandemic.”
In December 2019, Mamakwa spoke about three First Nations youth who had died by suicide when he rose in the legislature to ask Ministers to commit to an anti-suicide strategy for Indigenous youth – something he’s continued to fight for since his initial election in 2018.
“Mental health should have a no wrong door approach,” said Mamakwa. “It’s not right to use the excuse that Ontario has no jurisdiction for improving First Nations mental health services. Jordan's Principle ensures all First Nations children, no matter where they live, can access the services and supports they need, when they need them.”
Jordan’s Principle aims to ensure that all on and off-reserve First Nations youth have equal access to all government-funded public services, and to not be discriminated against because they are First Nations.