Edited from: The Huffington Post
By: Jeffrey Ansloos, registered psychologist and assistant professor at the School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria
In March 2016, the community of Attawapiskat, Canada, like many other indigenous communities across Canada, experienced surging rates of youth suicide. Thirteen youth died by suicide and 25 others attempted in a community of approximately 2000 people. Indigenous rights advocate and MP for Attawapiskat, Charlie Angus requested an emergency session of Parliament in April 2016. The minister of youth did not attend, and the next day when asked about Attawapiskat, he expressed condolences before pivoting to questions on pipelines.
The emergency debate did result in some positive outcomes. For a moment, the debate seemed to wake up Canadians. In a social media driven society still struggling with the residue of settler-colonialism, it is easy for people to become numb to the numbers. But this extraordinary debate not only awakened Canada, but garnered global attention on the issue of indigenous youth suicide.
The greater policy issue here is that suicide prevention is not a one portfolio issue, it is not just about health. It extends across all almost every aspect of relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian government. Suicide isn’t a new problem, it has been studied now for decades in Canada and in the United States, and by researchers in many fields.
Critical research in suicidology advocates for approaches to indigenous youth suicide prevention where indigenous youth are seen as critical partners, with real political power. When indigenous youth struggling with multiple barriers and intersecting forms of discrimination showed up they expected better. Instead they were chided when they protested environmental degradation.
So rather than telling tall tales about canoe storage, TVs, and greedy chiefs, it is high time for Justin Trudeau and his government AND the United Stated government to sit down, and deliver to indigenous youth real proof that their lives matter. Indigenous & Native American youth can’t wait. Time is up.