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Sheshatshiu: Innu First Nation in Labrador declares suicide crisis

Chief Eugene Hart said the deaths have taken a toll on the young people in the community. Wikimedia Commons user 4028mdk09

An Indigenous community in central Labrador has declared a crisis following 10 suicide attempts in less than a week.

In a statement posted on social media Tuesday night, Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation said the rash of attempts followed the death of a young woman over the weekend.

He did not say how the young woman died, but RCMP confirmed that the body of a 20-year-old woman was recovered from nearby Lake Melville on Saturday after a report of drowning.

Hart said the community of roughly 1,300 people has also been struggling with more than a dozen other deaths in recent months, all of them from natural causes.

READ MORE: Advocates call for national youth suicide strategy: ‘Our children will continue to die’

He said the deaths have taken a particular toll on the young people in the community and there are not enough supports in place to address the grief.

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“We feel the pain that is being felt in our community and hope to find a way forward to heal together,” Hart’s statement read.

As of Tuesday, the chief said he had reached out for support from the premier’s office, the RCMP and other organizations, and short-term support programming would be set up at three locations.

“These short-term solutions will allow us to work to establish longer-term services that can provide necessary supports in our community.”

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World Suicide Prevention Day – Sep 10, 2019

Julie Pike, a social worker at the local healing centre in Sheshatshiu, said additional support workers including trauma counsellors have been called in to ensure people’s needs are met.

Additional qualified workers are necessary to keep the clinic and nearby youth centre staffed 24 hours per day for the next few weeks, she said.

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One key issue is that young people experiencing trauma do not always have an outlet or a place to go when they are struggling, she said – especially at night.

“We’re hoping that we can intervene now and provide any services … to help these youth and help these children stabilize somewhat so that we can move forward with future care for them,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘Don’t lose hope’: Saskatchewan’s suicide crisis among First Nations youth

Disproportionately high suicide rates among Indigenous people in Labrador were documented in a 2016 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study found suicide rates were 14 times higher for Innu people in Labrador compared to non-Indigenous rates in Newfoundland.

Those findings were drawn from Statistics Canada reports over 17 years ending in 2009. Reports showed a suicide rate of 114 deaths per year for every 100,000 Innu people, compared to eight in Newfoundland.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.

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