Attawapiskat Cry For Help (Part 2)

Evangeline Procopoudis
Human Rights Blogger
One Nation, Two Worlds

Welcome back to this month’s instalment for the One Nation, Two Worlds human rights blog.

In the previous post I had mentioned to you all how I had no idea where to even start going with this blog. Well it turns out, now I don’t know how to bring this subject to a close! I mean, starting with the crisis at the Attawapiskat First Nations Reserve, it’s very difficult to put into words everything that needs to be said about this topic in a short monthly blog.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, for this instalment, I will be focusing more on what Canada is doing for the crisis, not only in the short-term, but also for the long run. In the last instalment, I briefly went over what the crisis in Attawapiskat was all about and minor details about what the root causes were and some small steps as to how the Canadian government is trying to rectify this situation.

As I was reading deeper into the situation I noticed that there was a huge discrepancy about how the government is helping in the short-run, versus how that will help the First Nations reserves in the long run. For example, the Canadian government has sent groups of mental health workers to the Attawapiskat Reserve in an attempt to reach out to the population who are struggling to overcome their own personal demons.1

The issue that follows this is will these mental health workers be enough to really help this community? I mean, I guess in the short-run it’s a quick way to try to reach out to the community and try to find the root of the problem, but is this community really ready to openly discuss themselves with these strangers?

Moreover, will these councillors be enough? Let’s look at it through the eyes of Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, founder and director of the Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research at McGill University.1 According to and analogy given by Dr. Kirmayer, having these mental health councillors is a good first step to try to settle things down and deal with the more visible issues, i.e. the suicide attempts, BUT, what good will the mental health councillor do when the individuals simply go back to what caused their mental suffering in the first place?1

Here, I’ll try and give my own analogy to this scenario! Say there’s a burning house (this is going to be the suicide crisis), in come the firefighters to try to take down the flames and try to get this burning fire under control (these are the mental health workers). These firefighters are doing a good job in the beginning by putting out the smaller fires coming from the windows and they’ve calmed down the neighbours with their reassuring words, BUT, the fire still isn’t out completely! As the firefighters move further and further inside the house, they are able to find that the fireplace has been left on (the root cause of the problem!!). Once the firefighters put the fire in the fireplace out, the rest of the house is under control and everything is safe again…in other words, once you find the root cause and stop it, everything can go back to the way it should be!

Here’s the main question now, what really is the main cause of this crisis?

By reading several articles by various news outlets, it seems the root causes lead to poverty, poor housing and water conditions, and lack of education and employment opportunities. All these issues combined lead to an overall, “sense of hopelessness”1 that is felt by not only this community, but other First Nations communities as well. Many individuals view death as their only way out of this vicious cycle.

In my opinion, yes, the mental health workers are a good temporary idea to solve some short-term mental health issues amongst the Attawapiskat youth. No, I don’t think this is the ‘magic bullet’ solution that it is made out to be.

What truly needs to be done is a complete overhaul of how First Nations reserves are viewed in comparison to non-First Nations communities. There needs to be an end to discrimination against First Nations people, and the quality of life and living standards needs to be of equal standards to other non-First Nations communities.

Only then will a true solution be found for not only the Attawapiskat Reserve, but for all First Nations communities across Canada.

1 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/04/17/emergency-aid-for-attawapiskat-crisis-critical-but-what-about-long-term-solutions_n_9715806.html
2 Photo Creds. Chriss Wattie

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