Shamattawa First Nation declares state of emergency over suicide crisis

The sky from Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba. The community is gripped with a suicide crisis - and has declared a state of emergency as it calls for help. Jason Hudson / submitted

WARNING: Some viewers may find this content disturbing.

A Northern Manitoba First Nation has taken emergency measures to address a suicide crisis.

Shamattawa First Nation Chief Eric Redhead says a single mother of four – his sister, and only sibling – took her own life last week.

Last night, a seven-year-old girl attempted to take her own life, and is now unresponsive, in critical condition in a Winnipeg hospital.

Chief Redhead is concerned about a “domino effect,” fearing there’s more suicidal ideation in the community.

“Our health team is fatigued. We’ve had multiple natural deaths in the community, that affected staff.”

“Right now there’s a burial happening, there are two more bodies coming in (Wednesday), and that overlapping grief is just overwhelming.”

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It’s not the first time these measures have had to be taken.

In 2016, the First Nation declared a similar State of Emergency following four suicides in a matter of weeks.

“I think the pandemic has shone a light on the lack of services communities like mine face. Enough is enough. We need these supports in the community.”

“It’s tiresome to have to fight (the federal government) for basic necessities. It’s ridiculous.”

Redhead says the First Nation needs the control over addressing its unique situation without fear of the First Nation’s funding from Ottawa being clawed back the following year.

“We can’t go outside the box and do our own thing, because it doesn’t meet that program’s mandate. Obviously, they’re not working.”

“We sign agreements every year… we’re boxed in.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee isn’t surprised to see youth suffering from suicidal thoughts.

“It’s because of the infrastructure that’s missing. The recreational opportunities simply aren’t there. I respect Chief Redhead for reaching out, and trying to remedy a situation that’s been around for a long time… in spite of his own loss.”

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Mobile Crisis teams from MKO and the Keewatin Tribal Council will arrive in the remote First Nation on Tuesday.

But Chief Redhead says it’s long past time for Ottawa to step up, too — and bring in child and adolescent mental health therapists.

“The response I’ve received so far is typical of the federal government.”

“It’s fluff, it’s ‘we are here for you,’ that type of stuff. I won’t be satisfied until I see results.”

Association of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says the community needs all the support it can get.

“This is heavy hearted news. I stand with the Nation, Chief Redhead and his leadership in declaring this state of emergency. I offer my prayers to all community members dealing with this amidst a global pandemic.”

Shamattawa is home to about 1,400 people and is located around 750 km. northeast of Winnipeg.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

If you are in need of support, you can call:

Manitoba Suicide Prevention & Support Line: 1-877-435-7170

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Klinic Crisis Line: (204) 786-8686

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566

Click to play video: 'State of emergency declared after fire destroys band office, store on Shamattawa First Nation'
State of emergency declared after fire destroys band office, store on Shamattawa First Nation

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