The Council of Canadians Delta-Richmond chapter protested outside the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) office yesterday in support of the occupation of the INAC office in Vancouver.
The Facebook outreach for the rally at 1138 Melville Street noted, “Indigenous families and allies are currently occupying INAC offices in Vancouver, Coast Salish territories today to demand immediate action in Attawapiskat. …The youth of Attawapiskat have made their needs clear to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada. The crisis in Attawapiskat is not new and does not exist in isolation from centuries of colonialism and its impacts. Children and young people living on Coast Salish territories are occupying INAC offices to extend support for the demands made by the youth of Attawapiskat.”
On April 15, before the occupation of the INAC office in Vancouver began, CBC reported, “Demonstrators calling themselves #OccupyINAC have taken over two Indigenous and Northern Affairs offices and forced the department to close six more buildings to the public. The protests began in Toronto, where around 30 people took over part of the Indigenous Affairs office on April 13. One day later, a similar occupation began in the department’s downtown Winnipeg office.”
Winnipeg-based Council of Canadians organizer Brigette DePape has brought food to the INAC occupation in that city.
That article adds, “In Winnipeg, the protesters issued a press release demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as protection for lands and waters and the abolition of the Indian Act. They say colonialism has led to crushing poverty that fuels the suicide crisis in indigenous communities like Attawapiskat, Ont.”
And yesterday evening the Regina Leader-Post reported, “For a third day the office remained closed to the public as protesters maintained a presence outside. At 3 p.m., a six-foot metal fence was placed on the property line in front of the INAC building, but protesters only moved their tents outside of the fence onto public property. They plan to stay put.”
Demonstrations have also taken place at INAC offices in Gatineau, James Bay, Kenora and other cities.
The occupations began after the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency on April 9 following reports of 11 suicide attempts in that community the previous weekend. There were 28 suicide attempts in the community of 2,000 people the previous month.
A First Nations Information Governance Centre report has stated that 22 per cent of First Nations adults have contemplated suicide at some point in their life, compared to 9.1 per cent of the general Canadian population. The Canadian Institute of Health says that First Nations youth also have a much higher incidence of suicide. Young men (ages 15-24) have a suicide rate of 126 per 100,000 people, while young women have a rate of 35 per 100,000. That’s compared to the suicide rate for Canadian youth of 24 per 100,000 for young men and 5 per 100,000 for young women.
In fact, suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for Indigenous peoples under the age of 44.
A statement from Occupy INAC in Winnipeg says, “These crises are not new and do not exist in isolation. Suicide has long plagued our communities due to centuries of colonization and it’s effects: crushing poverty, substandard housing, imprisonment, child apprehension and lack of access to health care, nutrition and clean water. The resulting destruction of identity, lack of self-worth and cognitive imperialism are the roots of suicide in our people. This issue is inseparable from the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the legacy of residential schools, the 11,000 and counting children in care in Manitoba and the theft, pollution and exploitation of the land, water and air. The violence perpetrated against nature reflects the violence perpetrated against our women, our men and our youth.”
Al Jazeera has noted, “Experts say that the high suicide rates are related to long-standing issues affecting First Nations, including widespread poverty, high unemployment rates, trauma from Canada’s residential school system, and systemic racism, among others.”
Just yesterday, the federal government announced it would build a youth centre in Attawapiskat.
CTV reports, “Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh says the government is moving in the right direction to assist his people, after the community declared a state of emergency on Apr. 9. However, Shisheesh says the prime minister needs to see things for himself to fully understand why residents are resorting to such extreme acts. …Shisheesh said the community is plagued by housing issues, including mold in many homes and a lack of proper living space for many residents. …No timetables or budgets have been announced for completion of the youth centre, but Bennett says the planning phase has already begun.”
Clearly much more is needed from the federal government and Prime Minister Trudeau, who also serves as this country’s youth minister.