Today marks the 142nd day that a continuous 24-hour vigil has been maintained outside of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office in downtown Toronto. Under the slogan #NOMIC (Not One More Indigenous Child) the vigil has been honoring victims of the ongoing Indigenous youth suicide crisis and demanding real, meaningful responses. That's over four months of the organizers suspending their lives in order to sleep, eat, and spend their days outside in variable -- and increasingly frigid -- weather. They have been tirelessly holding space with their bodies to serve as a visual reminder that Indigenous youth are dying and it is urgent that the government stop stalling and take action.
The suicide crisis affecting First Nations communities is not a new problem. And despite many promises of reconciliation and rebuilding relationships, both provincial and federal governments have dragged their feet in taking any kind of action. As the organizers of the vigil explain, "There has been report after report, inquiry after inquiry, recommendation after recommendation made, all of which have yet to be implemented in an effort to reduce the number of suicides, missing and murdered women, child apprehensions, incarceration rates, rapes, boiling water advisories, food insecurities, inadequate housing and shelters, coupled with the lack of funding and services that is administered in comparison to the non-indigenous population."
In the face of this inaction, the vigil organizers are going one step further and planning a forum from December 19 to December 21 to open up space and a platform for Indigenous youth from remote northern communities to come together in Toronto to share their vision and stories in their own words, as well as how others might contribute in a meaningful way to truly address the crisis of youth suicides in Indigenous communities. The forum will end with a large rally and march at noon on December 21, marking the five year anniversary of the thousands-strong Idle No More march on Parliament Hill.
Sometimes when we face something this heartbreaking it is easier to turn away, or the impulse is to quickly throw anything at the problem so we can then move on. For those of us like myself who are settlers here in Toronto, it is imperative that we support the amazing women who are refusing to let everyone turn away from this ongoing tragedy by maintaining this vigil and planning the forum and march coming up this month. We must join them in refusing to let the conversation be shifted to one of charity towards Indigenous youth. This is not an issue of charity but of working towards justice and action in response to the enormous state violence—via ongoing colonization, erasure, resource extraction, land theft, breaking up of families, deprivation of resources, etc—that the Indigenous youth who have taken their own lives have faced. We have those who have maintained this vigil to thank for holding space and supporting a deeper reckoning and conversation.
Information on how to support the forum and march in Toronto from December 19-21 is available here.
Rachel Small is the Ontario-Quebec-Nunavut Regional Organizing Assistant with the Council of Canadians.
Image: Rachel Small
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