State of emergency declared in Shamattawa because of suicide crisis says chief

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The remote First Nation community of Shamattawa, located about 700 km northeast of Winnipeg, has declared a state of emergency because they are facing a suicide crisis says the chief.

Eric Redhead said there have been a number of suicide attempts in recent months, but two recent incidents prompted the state of emergency.

Redhead said a mother of four died by suicide and a young seven year old child is in critical condition after an attempted suicide.

The mother was Redhead’s 32 year old sister.

“One of the reasons why we’re calling on additional supports is our health team at the local level is actually, they’re fatigued. We’ve had multiple deaths, natural deaths in the community that affected the health staff and really the entire community,” Redhead said in a Tuesday press conference.

“That overlapping grief for our service providers at the local level is just overwhelming and so we’re calling on additional supports to be provided to my member’s.”

While Redhead was unable to give the number of attempted suicides, he said there has been an uptick in the community of about 1,400 people that is only accessible by air or winter road.

“I can’t give you numbers but what I will say is we have seen an uptick in suicide attempts by not only our young people but even our adults. And so this is why, with those attempts and then the serious, serious stuff that we’ve been facing the past few days is why I declared a state of emergency. We want to nip this before it gets out of hand,” he said.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said it already has supports in the community.

“ISC will assist the community with securing child and adolescent expertise, and has also confirmed a Jordan’s Principle therapist and a Non-Insured Health Benefits therapist are present in the community to provide support during this difficult time,” an ISC spokesperson said in a written statement.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee believes the pandemic has exposed gaps within First Nation communities, including suicide.

“If this is not addressed, it will only escalate and the situation is critical. And throughout this year the pandemic has exposed the gaps that exist in our First Nations and mental and emotional health is an area we really need to address because the youth of our communities are suffering. And the have nowhere, or no one to reach out to,” Settee said.

Last year, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation also declared a state of emergency after a spike in suicides.

Redhead outlined what he believes is needed in both the short and long-term to address this crisis and mitigate it in the future.

“The short term, we need the crisis response teams and the medical professionals on the ground help the affected through this whole process. And to ensure that they can flag anyone who might be suicidal or have ideation and that they’re able to catch that before it gets serious,” he said.

“I think in the long term what we need is more resources from the feds, a more robust mental health program. I feel as though the programs that are in place right now have been in place for a very, very long time and obviously they’re not working.”

In December, the community dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19. 

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