Calgarians rally to show solidarity with Attawapiskat youth

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WATCH ABOVE: A dire situation in a First Nation community in Northern Ontario is striking a chord here in Calgary. Attawapiskat has declared a state of emergency, after several suicide attempts by its young people. Now, Calgarians are coming forward to let them know they're not alone. Tracy Nagai reports – Apr 17, 2016

CALGARY – The serious situation on the Attawapiskat First Nation has struck a nerve with people across the country, including in Alberta’s largest city.

On Sunday afternoon, a protest was held at Calgary’s Olympic Plaza to call attention to the epidemic of suicide attempts on the northern Ontario First Nation community.

READ MORE: Crisis team dispatched to Attawapiskat after state of emergency declared over suicides

Last week, the chief and council for the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency as a shocking number of suicide attempts continues to grip the reservation, including 11 attempts in one night and approximately 100 since August.

On Friday, there were five more suicide attempts in Attawapiskat and a 10-year-old child was among the 11 people who tried to kill themselves last Saturday.

Dozens of people came out to the event in downtown Calgary which included several speakers, drummers and singers and an open discussion about possible solutions to issues aboriginal youth face, including suicide, poverty, violence and systemic racism.

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“I hope that Calgarians take notice because this is a society issue, it isn’t just that one specific nation. This is our youth our future so we need to take care of them,” said organizer Nancy Diane Simmons.

Brodie Gomez, a 13-year-old boy, read a poem to the crowd and children just like him.

“I know you feel there is no hope for you. I know you feel that there’s only one way out. You must know you are part of something bigger,” Gomez read.

“They’re poor and they don’t have much water or food. They don’t have libraries, they can’t go to school much,” said Gomez.

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

The Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay is home to about 2,000 people. The community has been plagued by suicides and attempted suicides for years. More recently, in March alone, there were 28 suicide attempts. Since the start of April, there have been 15 attempts.

But even parents raising children in the province of Alberta know all too well the struggles they face.

“He (Brodie) went to school in Kainai in grade 1. It was really difficult getting him there. The buses weren’t working, or some days the roads weren’t cleared or sometimes the teacher was sick.  There were no backup plans. Luckily, we were able to move to the city and he has a really good education now,” said Pamela Beebe, Brodie’s mom.

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Change is something the children of Attawapiskat will hopefully live to see.

The youth of Attawapiskat have put together a list of things the community needs, including a youth centre with programming, more recreation and sports.

Health Canada has dispatched two mental health counsellors to the community of Attawapiskat as part of the NAN crisis response unit.

The Mushkegowuk Council said northern communities don’t have the resources to deal with a crisis at this capacity.

With files from Tracy Nagai

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