Trudeau Dedicates $3 Billion in Resources to Help Canada's Indigenous People

By Victoria Kim 04/25/16

Earlier this month, 11 members of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, a community of about 2,000 people, attempted suicide in one day.

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Justin Trudeau: Canada ‘Only Beginning’ To See Scope of Nation’s Mental Health Issues
Photo viaShutterstock.com/Art Babych

After a recent spate of suicide attempts shed light on the mental health crisis plaguing Canada’s indigenous populations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to support efforts to improve mental health care in these communities.

During a meeting last week with members of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the prime minister said the country is “only beginning to realize the scale, the scope of the problem” of mental health in Canada

Of the country’s indigenous population of 1.4 million (generally referred to as First Nations), suicide rates are up to 11 times higher than Canada’s national average. Earlier this month, 11 members of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, a community of about 2,000 people, attempted suicide in one day, causing it to declare a state of emergency. Since September, 101 people in the community attempted suicide, the youngest being 11 and the oldest, 71 years old.

The recent suicide attempts in Attawapiskat can be traced to years of neglect of indigenous issues by the government, Trudeau suggested at the meeting. He said the “challenges are massive” to mend the disconnect between government and Canada’s indigenous people, but that dedicating resources to mental health and education is a start. He said that his administration is spending over $3 billion to improve primary and secondary education for First Nations students. “Indigenous students deserve the same opportunities for success as other young Canadians,” he told the teachers’ group.

Since the state of emergency in Attawapiskat, federal agencies have sent a crisis response unit, including social workers, nurses and mental health counselors, to the isolated community. But there are many more indigenous communities in Canada that suffer high levels of suicide attempts. The problems stem from generations of discrimination and abuse, resulting in higher rates of poverty, incarceration and addiction than the general population. Alcohol and drug use is prevalent in these communities. Government figures suggest that while fewer First Nations people drink alcohol than the general population, those who do drink, drink heavily.

Trudeau is hoping education initiatives and increased mental health resources will make a difference for the First Nations population. “So much of it is about a sense of identity, of who they are, how they fit in,” he said. He promised to support Canada’s provinces and territories in their efforts to improve mental health care, saying that in indigenous communities that have received such support, “suicide rates have plummeted.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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