Last weekend, 11 people tried to commit suicide in Attawapiskat First Nation, a community in northern Ontario. The town is home to approximately 2,000 people and is located on the south-western tip of James Bay. There have been 100 suicide attempts in the past 7 months.
Canadian politicians met on Tuesday night to discuss what to do. Many are at a loss for words, according to sources. Chief Bruce Shisheesh and the council declared a state of emergency on the weekend in response to recent events. This event should not be taken lightly by federal politicians or Canadians.
What prompted the suicide attempts? Famous Canadian author, Joseph Boyden, has a few ideas. To him, intergenerational trauma from the reservation school system has spread through the First Nation people. For those that are not familiar with the history, the schools were kind of like boarding schools to make First Nation children more like European settlers.
These schools taught them the language, culture and educational practices of the colonial powers that be. What really happened was far darker. We’re talking abuse in all forms, from physical to psychological. The children were even tattooed to keep track of them. The children rarely saw their families and only interacted with one another or abusive authority figures. The result was a culture that was understandably traumatized.
After the recent mass suicide attempt, a young First Nation girl of 17 was asked why she wanted to take her life and she replied, “I just wanted the pain to go away.”
The young girl talked about being bullied and some trauma she had experienced earlier in life. Apparently, many have talked about the conditions in the community and the issues of overcrowding and isolation.
I remember reading about a term, not commonly used but incredibly descriptive, called the Fourth World. It’s outdated because we no longer refer to developed and developing nations as First and Third World, respectively. The Fourth World means a nation within a state, not given autonomy but not really a part of the rest of the country. In this sense, it exists as an island that is often forgotten by our political leaders. It becomes a part of the fringe that gets attention only when 11 people want to take their lives.
Let’s not forget this ever again.