Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death among First Nations youth and adults.
According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate among First Nations males aged 15-24 is 126 per 100,000 people, compared with 24 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal males. For First Nations females, the rate is 35 per 100,000, compared with only 5 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal females. Children as young as 10 have taken their own lives.
"It's a problem for the whole community, but it's a problem that it's the youth that are dying. It's the future," said Gerald McKinley, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario, who specialises in Aboriginal health issues in northern Ontario. Suicide is associated with poverty, discrimination and ongoing colonisation of First Nations communities in Canada, he said, and having one suicide in a community can trigger other people. "While suicide is not a traditional aspect of the culture, it spreads through a community like a virus," McKinley explained. McKinley said any viable solution to the Aboriginal health crisis must be based within the communities and build on the strengths of those most at risk. "Youth need to be involved in the solution. They need to be someone that we work with," he said.
Karl Hele, director of First Peoples Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, told Al Jazeera that Aboriginal health is tied to long-standing issues related to Canadian colonialism. Inadequate housing, a lack of access to clean water, the high cost of food, long-standing abuse stemming from residential schools, and inadequate government funding directly tie into health problems in First Nations communities, Hele said. "You can solve health crises, but as long as you have more people than are capable in a house and the house is full of mould, what's the point?"
A report by Canada's Auditor General, released last year, painted a damning picture of the quality of healthcare offered to residents of remote First Nations communities in Ontario and Manitoba. About 400 Health Canada nurses provide services to approximately 95,000 people living in these areas, the report stated. Health Canada provided $103m in 2013-2014 to support these nursing stations, and $175m over the same period to pay transportation costs when residents access medical services outside their community. But many nurses in these outposts did not have the training to respond to serious emergencies, and they were not given clear directives to act beyond their stated duties, the report found. Only one of 45 nurses surveyed in the report had completed all five necessary training courses, including advanced cardiac life support, trauma life support and advanced paediatric life support. Health Canada "did not take into account community health needs" when allocating services, and had not made sure the communities had comparable access to services as others living in similar locations.
Donnie McKay, a band councillor in Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) in northern Manitoba, said "I'm past sympathy. I'm past begging," he said. "I just want my people to see that they have something to look forward to."
The essential reason why these people feeling suicidal is that their culture has been decimated. It is hard to imagine what it feels like to know that your cultural roots have been deliberately wiped out and replaced with a society based on greed. They are lost people, caught between two worlds that makes them feel despair and despondency. Many live in "rural ghettos" with no way to earn a living.