The Attawapiskat First Nation, or the people of the parting rocks, as they are known in their indigenous Swampy Cree language, number roughly 2,000 souls. They live on a small Indian reserve 600 miles north of the Canadian capital of Ottawa, at the mouth of James Bay’s Attawapiskat River. This subarctic First Nation declared a state of emergency after 11 community members tried to take their own lives Saturday night.
Since last September, more than 100 Attawapiskat people have attempted suicide in what local MP Charlie Angus has described as a “rolling nightmare” of a winter. The ghastly toll reveals a grim reality with which a nation in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation now must reckon.
Suicide does not merely roll in like a hurricane to uproot homes and families, and drown out neighborhoods before receding from where it came. No, this has been an emergency generations in the making, tacitly supported by a Canada fully willing to mine natural resources, proselytize and brutalize generations of children in residential schools, and then leave with basic housing, education systems and healthcare in a state of disrepair.
In 2011, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency due to a “severe housing shortage”. In 2014, the community opened the first proper elementary school to serve Attawapiskat’s children in 14 years. At the same time, the De Beers mining company pulled $392m worth of diamonds out of their Victor Lake mine on lands taken from the Attawapiskat First Nation through an extension of Treaty 9 in 1930.
This is how First Nations live in the Bantustans of Canada’s north. Broke and broken people with little to no opportunities live in cold, run-down homes and suffer from generations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
They look on as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources are mined from their ancestral homelands. This is not an emergency – a catastrophe for which Canada was unprepared and never saw coming. No, this is and always has been part of the design and devastation that colonization wrought.
For the rest of this opinion column, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/12/canadian-first-nation-suicide-epidemic-attawapiskat-indigenous-people