EDMONTON — Alberta's child advocate is calling on the province to fund a suicide prevention strategy to tackle what he calls a
"terrible trend of aboriginal youth suicide.''
Del Graff says the plan must be led by communities and recognize aboriginal values and cultural practices.
The ideas are among 12 recommendations listed in a report released by Graff.
Report looks at seven teens
It looks at the lives of seven aboriginal teens who were involved with social services and killed themselves between June 2013 and December 2014.
It says the teens all experienced early childhood trauma from exposure to domestic violence, parental addictions or parental mental-health issues.
Graff says it's time for change and action.
"It cannot be denied that a troubling picture has taken shape when it comes to aboriginal youth,'' Graff writes in the report.
"A troubling picture has taken shape when it comes to aboriginal youth."
"It is my heartfelt hope that this report spurs governments, communities and community leaders to think differently about aboriginal youth suicide and take decisive action to address it.''
Earlier this month, a state of emergency was declared on the remote Attawapiskat reserve in northern Ontario after a spate of suicide attempts.
The Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Manitoba, known as Cross Lake, also declared a state of emergency in March. Its chief has said 100 children are on a suicide watch list on the reserve.
Graff's report says aboriginal youths are five to six times more likely to be affected by suicide than the general population.
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Aboriginal people are more likely to feel depressed than other Canadians, due to several factors that may include poverty, loss of cultural identity, inadequate health care and more. From 2004 to 2008, the suicide rate among children and teens living in the Inuit homelands was 30 times higher than youth in the rest of Canada, according to the Canadian Press. Several Indigenous communities have also voiced concerns over struggles with addiction. In April, Cat Lake leaders estimated around 70 and 80 per cent of its adults relied on oxycodone-based pain killers, for example.
Roughly one-third of Metis kids and 37 per cent of First Nations children between ages six and eight are obese, according to a 2012 National Aboriginal Health Organization report. As a result of unhealthy habits, aboriginals in Canada are coping with what the Heart and Stroke Foundation called a "full-blown cardiovascular crisis" in 2010. And poor diet, combined with insufficient physical activity, has led to First Nations girls facing higher diabetes rates than other children in Saskatchewan. Poor access to health care has long plagued aboriginal communities, who are now coping with budget cuts to the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) and the Native Women's Association of Canada's (NWAC) despite increased funding in other areas. Natives march on Portage Ave. towards the Health and Welfare main office located on Main St. Friday morning in Winnipeg to protest cutbacks on Native health care.
The Native Women's Association of Canada has documented 582 cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women in Canada as of 2010. Those women make up about 10 per cent of female homicides in Canada. Others estimate the number of missing or murdered women and children over the last 10 years could reach as high at 3,000. Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne attributed the problem to police enforcement problems and social issues, although apathy also remains a major stumbling block. Carol Martin wipes away a tear as she attends a Sisters in Spirit vigil held to honour the lives of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday October 4, 2009. Vigils were held in dozens of communities across Canada to highlight the issue of murdered aboriginal women and girls.
As Western provinces pursue natural resource development, aboriginal representatives demand a say. "It's important that First Nations not simply be an afterthought," Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said. Respecting aboriginal rights, in addition to providing information and opportunities, remain sticking points in oil projects, CBC said. And still, groups remain torn on some projects, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, which some say will bring prosperity, while others believe will have devastating effects on the land. Aboriginal groups have also raised concerns over their roles in hydro and mining projects around Canada.
After a detrimental history of residential schools resulting in mental and physical damages, Canada's aboriginal communities still struggle with education. As of 2006, 40 per cent of aboriginals aged 20-24 hadn't earned a high school diploma, compared with 13 per cent of non-Aboriginals. A national panel supported by the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government has drawn attention to a lack of funding for First Nations education. In the 2012 budget, the federal government pledged $275 over three years for First Nations education, although many consider it inadequate -- especially as Aboriginal Affairs' budget is trimmed. Some also attribute the education gap to factors such as living conditions and geographic isolation. Statistics Canada said the causes of a high aboriginal high school dropout rate are largely unresearched, but may include household income, nutrition and parents' level of education.
NDP MP Charlie Angus' HuffPost Canada blog drew attention to Attawapiskat's state of emergency regarding inadequate shelter, and a lack of running water and electricity. Other First Nations communities experience similar problems, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo noted. "These conditions are right across the country. We have many Attawapiskats," he said. The issue also raised questions over how communities should efficiently spend government funds, how to fix Canada's infrastructure gap, as well as Attawapiskat's capacity for self-determination.