April 13, 2016 1:13 pm
Updated: April 13, 2016 2:08 pm

Attawapiskat: Jean Chrétien says ‘sometimes’ people on First Nations reserves ‘need to move’

WATCH ABOVE: Former prime minister Jean Chretien speaks to reporters on Attawapiskat

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Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien said there are no quick fixes to the problems plaguing remote First Nations communities like Attawapiskat and that “sometimes” people need to move.

“It’s an extremely difficult problem,” Chrétien told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday. “I was with this problem in 1968, a long time ago. It takes time and patience and there’s always tragedies of that nature that occur and the government has to do its best to cure it. But it’s not easy.”

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Chrétien served as minister of Indian affairs and northern development from 1968 to 1974 and was asked by reporters on Parliament Hill about the Attawapiskat crisis.

READ MORE: World ‘shocked’ by Attawapiskat suicide crisis: NDP MP Charlie Angus

“There is no economic base there for having jobs and so sometimes they have to move, like anybody else,” the former prime minister said. “You look at each case but some people have to move.”

Attawapiskat, a remote First Nation of about 2,000 is so overburdened by a rash of suicide attempts that has overwhelmed reserve’s four health-care workers.

Health Canada said 18 additional people — including a crisis co-ordinator, two youth support workers and a psychologist — have been deployed as temporary crisis relief in Attawapiskat, where 13 young aboriginal people were overheard making a suicide pact Monday.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum told Global News Tuesday said the community needs more resources and additional staff on a long term commitment.

READ MORE: 13 kids taken to hospital over fears of ‘suicide pact’

“They haven’t had a youth mental health worker in the community for close to 11 months,” she said. “There has to be some efforts to have consistent resources and some proactive, preventive measures.

Chrétien said he has seen first-hand the problems of life on reserves in Canada, having worked with First Nations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan during the 1980s.

“I went to northern Manitoba and it is extremely difficult to have a life there,” he said. “But they are traditional. They want to be close to the land. They are nostalgic about the past when they were going hunting and fishing and it takes time.”

The House of Commons held an emergency debate Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Attawapiskat. The misery and neglect there has “shocked the world,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said, whose northern Ontario riding includes the trouble aboriginal community of Attawapiskat.

No one can understand “how a country as rich as Canada can leave so many young children and young people behind,” said Angus. “I think tonight might be the beginning of a change in our country and that’s what I’m asking us all to come together to do.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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