Two Saturdays ago, there were 11 suicide attempts in a remote First Nations community of 2,000 in Northern Ontario, Canada.
Sadly, there are so many citizens trying to kill themselves there that the chief and council of the Attawapiskat First Nation has declared a state of emergency. Since September, 101 people have tried to kill themselves in the Attawapiskat Nation near James Bay, according to the Toronto Star, with one dying. The community is in a remote area—for large parts of the year, it's covered in snow and only accessible by air.
Chief Bruce Shisheesh told Canada’s CBC News people of all ages are attempting suicide. “The youngest was 11, the oldest 71,” he said.
Chief Shisheesh declared the state of emergency with the hope Canadian health officials will step in to help. The four healthcare workers on the Attawapiskat Nation, none of whom have specialized mental health training, are overwhelmed and can’t keep up with the suicide attempts and deaths.
"These four workers, crisis workers, are burned out. They can't continue working daily because of the amount of suicides [that] have happened. They're backlogged," the council's Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca told CBC News.
"There are no services at the moment, no counsellors in the community," said Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca. The Canadian government announced it is immediately sending two mental health counselors to the Attawapiskat community, according to the The Toronto Star.
Shisheesh said he believes the triggers for the suicide attempts include bullying at schools and the “ripple effect” of emotional trauma caused by residential schools—boarding schools for indigenous Canadians run by the Canadian government. He also cited overcrowding in the area’s homes, with up to 15 people living in one house.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter on Sunday, calling the news from Attawapiskat "heartbreaking."
The alarming rate of suicides amongst indigenous tribes is affecting First Nations across North America.
The Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Manitoba declared a state of emergency in March after “there were six suicides in the last two months and 140 attempts in the last two weeks alone,” according to the Canadian Press.
American Indians and Alaska Natives between the age of 18 to 24 have the highest rates of suicide of any ethnicity, and higher than the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Yurok Tribe living near where the Klamath and Trinity Rivers intersect in northern California declared a state of emergency in January this year after an “alarming increase in the number of suicides.”
In the last 18 months the Tribal Council reported seven tribal members, ranging in age from 16 to 31, took their own lives. All of the suicides happened near Weitchpec, an isolated community of 150 individuals located on the east side of the Yurok Reservation, according to tribal officials.
Members of the tribe signed a petition urging tribal leaders to take action last December.
“[Yurok youth] love their home and most want to stay here, but the lack of training opportunities, jobs, or even recreational facilities invites unhealthy behaviors and feelings of despair. The people in this community need to feel that someone cares about what’s happening here. They urgently need your attention and your help,” stated the petition signed by 200 residents living on the reservation.
The Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S., also declared a state of emergency in September 2015 in response to "several suicides."
“Suicide and death is hard to talk about as Navajos, but we need to begin that conversation and run with it,” Nelson S. BeGaye, a delegate in the Navajo Health, Education, and Human Services Committee, said in a statement.