A new strategy focused on reducing the rates of Indigenous suicide has been released in Canada and focused on that nation’s more than 60,000 Inuit peoples. The strategy, a partnership between the Indigenous people and Health Canada, comes at a time when the rates of suicide among the Inuit remain higher than the national average. Suicide was acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as “one of the most urgent problems facing Aboriginal communities.
In 2013, James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was deeply concerned by the suicide rate in aboriginal communities. He noted particularly that in Pukatawagan there has been a suicide (once) every six weeks since January 2013. Since 2009, "there have been as many as 27 more suicides at Pukatawagan, which is home to 2,500 residents."
The "suicide rate among youth on reserves is "alarming" at a rate five times greater than that of all Canadians."
The push for a focus on suicide prevention came about as five young Inuit people took their own lives. Community leader, Natan Obed, choked back tears when he talked about the impact suicide was having on his community: "I think about what he must have thought when he was addressing the community of Hebron at the wharf before he and his loved ones and his family went away from their homeland forever," He talked about the ripple effects for future generations, pausing to collect himself repeatedly, as he talked about his hopes for his own young son.
Image: Natan Obed, Inuit community leader CBC
"In many ways myself, my family and my children are still looking for a place that meant as much to us," he said.
Obed said acknowledging those traumas and the need for equity are a key part of decreasing the Inuit suicide rate.
Health Minister Jane Philpott cried as she described the forced mass relocation of Inuit.
"I hope that today's announcement will help Canadians acknowledge … the full impact of decisions that were made," she said, adding that stories of relocation are overlooked, but so too are stories of Inuit resilience.
She added that the way out involves acknowledging that traumatic history. "Those solutions must involve self-determination." ITK calls for addressing a multitude of risk factors for suicide: everything from poor housing conditions to insufficient mental health services aimed at the Inuit.
The group doesn't plan to offer new services but will focus on reaching out to government for more help meeting those needs, as well as ensuring the groups that do provide the services are on the same page about priorities and sharing information.
There are six priority areas in the suicide prevention plan:
Creating social equity.
Creating cultural continuity.
Nurturing healthy Inuit children from birth.
Access to mental wellness services.
Healing unresolved trauma and grief.
Mobilizing Inuit knowledge for resilience and suicide prevention.
The federal government is putting forward $9 million over three years—part of the $69 million announced last month for Indigenous mental health.
The $9 million will be spent on additional front-line services and training as well as resources for early childhood development and Inuit-focused suicide prevention.
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