Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett faced some tough questions during her visit Monday to the First Nation of Attawapiskat.
The James Bay community has been under a state of emergency since April 9th due to a rash of suicide attempts by its young people. There have been 16 suicide attempts in the month of April, and 28 recorded attempts in March.
Bennett met privately with Chief Bruce Shisheesh, and publicly during a youth council session.
Robert Sutherland, an Attawapiskat youth, questioned Bennett during the youth council session, comparing conditions in the community to a Third World country.
“Why is it so easy for the government to welcome refugees and offer them first-class citizenship in our country?” asked Sutherland. “When will Canada wake up and open its eyes to First Nations communities?”
While Shisheesh expressed optimism at the end of his meeting with Bennett, and New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, who travelled with Bennett and represents the area, many youth were tired of the lack of political action.
“If we can restore the self-identity to our youth, it gives them something to stand on, it gives them something that’s theirs, it gives them something good to live for,” Sutherland said.
Shisheesh described the meeting as “good” and said, “we’re getting somewhere.”
While in Attawapiskat, Bennett pledged to invite a youth delegation from the region to visit Ottawa and committed to support a new, properly equipped youth centre and more youth programming. However, a dollar figure for the youth centre wasn’t provided.
Angus was also pleased with the visit, saying he was happy to “have something deliverable” to the people in Attawapiskat.
Since the state of emergency was declared and an emergency debate was held in the House of Commons, 18 mental health workers have been sent to the remote region to help respond to the crisis.
Ontario has said it will provide $2-million in funding to help address the crisis.