A First Nation in northern Alberta has declared a state of local emergency following a string of suicide and suicide attempts among community members.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation says immediate medical intervention is needed in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. to address a mounting mental health crisis among members.
Suicides and suicide attempts have been increasing in the remote community accessible only by plane, boat or ice road, about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, the MCFN said in a statement Tuesday.
If additional mental health resources don’t arrive soon, community leaders fear the trend will have a tragic ripple effect among members.
“Leadership is also gravely concerned about the imminent potential of suicidal clusters, suicidal ideations, and suicidal planning among our youth,” the statement reads.
“Our nation urgently needs mental health support in our community to address the immediate and short-term crisis and sustained funding for mental health and addictions in the long term, focusing on health promotion, prevention and reclaiming cultural identity.”
The state of local emergency was declared Monday following a vote by the chief and council.
In a video posted to social media, Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said the community has called on the federal and provincial governments, including Alberta Health Services and Indigenous Services Canada, to provide immediate support and long-term, sustainable funding for community mental health supports.
The community is also calling for a mental health crisis response team to be immediately dispatched to the community, Tuccaro said.
He did not provide an exact number but said multiple suicides have been reported.
He said outside support is needed to end a pattern of self-destructive behaviour in the community.
‘No more words’
“We can feel the grief amongst the people, the hurt,” he said.
“As the chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, I too get these calls about our membership wanting to hurt themselves. It’s something that I take near and dear to my heart.”
Tuccarro said the band and council can no longer turn a blind eye to the crisis unfolding in the community.
“Today, there is no more words,” he said. “Today is a day of action. We can not stand by anymore and pretend that this is not a real issue.”
In the video Monday, Tuccaro urged anyone who is struggling to get help.He also shared a warning, urging parents to monitor their children’s social media activity. Some sites are promoting risky behaviour among teenagers in the community, he said.
“Please, speak to your children,” he said.
Suicide rates have consistently been shown to be higher among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit in Canada than the rate among non-Indigenous people.
According to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada, the suicide rate among First Nations people in Canada was three times higher than the rate among non-Indigenous people.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help: