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Solidarity with Occupy INAC

The Council of Canadians stands in solidarity with Occupy INAC.

CBC reports, “As many as 20 members of Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have been occupying the Toronto office of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) since mid-morning [on April 13], demanding that the federal government take action following the suicide crisis [in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario].”

The article highlights, “[Those occupying INAC] say they are standing in solidarity with the Attawapiskat community, which declared a state of emergency [on April 9] following reports of 11 suicide attempts in one day alone last weekend. There are also reports of more than 100 suicide attempts and at least one death since September in the remote community of nearly 2,000 people.”

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.

Al Jazeera explains, “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.”

CBC reports, “Protesters say they will refuse to leave the premises until INAC officials promise more action to address the crisis.”

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak visited the occupation last night.

He posted, “I’m going to go and give my thanks to those standing up to the systemic indifference built into the colonial construct and manifesting as the bureaucracy of the department of Indian Affairs. Those who know that it will take a lot more than short term funding for mental health workers to talk to people.”

Late yesterday he added, “I just spoke with INAC Minister Bennett. It’s a fluid situation right now.. beautiful people occupying the space at the Toronto INAC office.. Minister stated that the Prime minister is willing to speak to community members, particularly the youth, and find solutions amenable to the community. How that transpires is part of the constant discussions ongoing. I told her the Toronto police have allowed food and water but no access to bathroom which is not right. … I told her this is a national issue, not confined to one community but tragedy unfolding everywhere, breaking all of our hearts all at once. She agreed with me.”

CTV notes, “MPs debated for more than five hours [April 12] about how the suicide crisis and other public health emergencies facing First Nations communities across the country should be addressed. Many communities are without proper health services, adequate housing and in some cases, access to clean water. At least four aboriginal leaders are scheduled to appear before the Commons indigenous affairs committee on [April 14] to discuss the health crises facing their communities.”