When the Attawapiskat chief declared a state of emergency Saturday evening, citing the community’s 11 suicide attempts so far in the month of April and 28 recorded attempts in March, he brought attention to a crisis that impacts too many Indigenous communities.

The #OccupyINAC movement, which occupied Indian and Aboriginal Affairs offices in cities across Canada, has successfully moved Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and Indian Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennet to agree to a meeting.

During the crisis, CBC published an article with two quotes that rattle in my mind.

The first was from Anna Betty Achneepineskum, a deputy grand chief with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, who reported: “There is no youth mental health worker, there is no recreation co-ordinator. There’s a few people that are taking it upon themselves to organize little activities for the young people, but we need more help.” 

The second was from former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, who said “It’s an extremely difficult problem. I was with this problem in 1968, a long time ago. It takes time and patience, and there’s always tragedies of that nature that occur and the government has to do its best to cure it. But it’s not easy.” 

These quotes speak to government incrementalism and neglect. We need to demand more and get involved if we want to see real change.

In the meantime, the Cree Nation is also asking us all to reach out and write letters and send packages to youth in these communities. The address for the letters and packages is:

Youth in Attawapiskat

PO Box 248

Attawapiskat, ON P0L A1O