Attawapiskat’s Cry For Help (Part 1)

Evangeline Procopoudis
Human Rights Blogger
One Nation, Two Worlds

Starting off this first blog post for One Nation, Two Worlds, I was at a loss as to what I should really talk about. There are hundreds of human rights issues plaguing our world at this very moment, yet it was difficult for me to chose just one. So I thought, ‘when in doubt, just Google it!’ and that’s exactly what I did.

I started off my search by looking for human rights issues that are affecting our Canadian communities here at home. One of the biggest issues at the moment – if not THE biggest issue – is the crisis at the Attawapiskat Reserve. Before jumping into this crisis, I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize us with this reserve to get a sense of the community.

The Attawapiskat First Nations reserve is located in Northern Ontario near the Attawapiskat River around James Bay. The Attawapiskat community links other towns along the shore of James Bay including the Kashechewan First Nation, Fort Albany and Moonsonee.

This quiet at peaceful reserve was brought to the attention of Canadians in early April of this year (2016). A state of emergency was declared within the reserve after eleven individuals attempted suicide on April 9th 2016.1 These events are unimaginable. When reading the declaration of emergency, I was completely shocked at how the situation at this reserve was left to come to this state. What was even more shocking to me was that in a document signed by Chief Bruce Shisheesh, it was cited that another thirty-eight suicide attempts had taken place only the month before, and between the months of September 2015 until April 2016, over one hundred people had tried taking their own lives, with one individual sadly passing away.1

This situation is simply unfathomable.

In a country as developed and as willing to take on challenges towards mental health as Canada, it sickens me to think that the Canadian government has let this problem grow into the monster it has become. Where there no warning signs? Was no one reaching out for help? Was – and is – the Canadian government so oblivious to the conditions of the First Nations reserves in Canada?

As I was reading further into the issue, I wanted to find out what the Canadian government was doing to solve this issue and to ensure that this never occurs again. Immediately after the state of emergency was declared, two mental health counselors were sent to the reserve. The question remains though, is that enough? Will this solve the problem within the reserves around the James Bay area?

According to Charlie Angus, a local MP and a spokesperson for indigenous affairs, “It is [only] a wake-up call for Canada.”1 There needs to be more steps taken by the Canadian government to assist this community not only through this desperate time, but at all times.

A third-world community within a first-world country is what the Canadian First Nations reserves look like to others – a problem that should never have been there to begin with.

I will be continuing the discussion about the Attawapiskat First Nations reserve on the second installment of this blog as this is a pressing issue that needs to be understood from all angles. In the next blog I will be going more in depth about the root causes of this emergency and how us, as fellow Canadians, can help rectify this situation.


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