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Feds ignore suicide epidemic in First Nations communities

Amelia Murphy-Beaudoin

November 23, 2011

The willful ignorance of Canadian governments at all levels is perpetuating the cycle of abuse that First Nations people have been grappling with since residential schools.

Government officials who have knowingly ignored the myriad of issues affecting First Nations communities are complicit in the epidemic of suicides affecting these communities.

Early in September, Ontario’s Chief Coroner issued a report on the death by suicide of 16 youth in the Pikangikum First Nation over just two years.

The report recommends improvements in health care, education and social services; like the recommendations of previous well-meaning reports, these will likely not be implemented for lack of funding.

According to Health Canada, suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth. Suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.

The soaring suicide rate in First Nations communities is a result of the appalling social and physical conditions in which First Nations people live: overcrowded, sometimes contaminated environments, usually without adequate access to basic services like sewage systems and running water, lower standards of education and housing, high levels of poverty and unemployment.

All of this fosters a sense of hopelessness and results in high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, involvement in the sex trade and suicide.

Initiatives to protect communities and prevent these tragic outcomes are under-funded and largely ignored. It is vital that we understand the spiraling rate of suicides in First Nations communities as a tragic and unnecessary symptom of the white hegemonic and racist system in which we live.

Socialists can play a role in building and expanding solidarity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to force the government and its agents to take decisive action and to stop the tragedies.

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