Sheshatshiu chief says resources coming together after suicide crisis declared | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Sheshatshiu chief says resources coming together after suicide crisis declared

Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation is shown in a handout photo. The chief of a central Labrador Indigenous community facing a rash of suicide attempts says resources are beginning to come together that can pave the way for long-term solutions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Shannon John Tobin MANDATORY CREDIT
November 01, 2019 - 9:12 AM

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The chief of a central Labrador Indigenous community facing a rash of suicide attempts says resources are beginning to come together that can pave the way for long-term solutions.

Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation says wide response from other communities and government agencies has helped establish much-needed 24-hour counselling services.

"It's helping a little bit because it gives everybody a place to go," Hart said in an interview Thursday. "The door is open and you can go there whatever hour you want."

Earlier in the week, Hart issued a statement declaring a crisis after 10 suicide attempts by young people following the death of a 20-year-old woman last weekend.

He did not say how the young woman died, but RCMP confirmed the body of a 20-year-old woman was recovered from nearby Lake Melville last Saturday after a report of drowning.

Hart said the community of roughly 1,300 has also been dealing with more than a dozen natural deaths over the last few months, and the grief has hit young people especially hard.

Each death can trigger tough memories for those who have lost loved ones, Hart said Thursday.

He said overburdened local support staff need extra hands on deck to stop the crisis from getting worse, so community leaders can set a course forward.

"It can burn you out pretty fast, but you need your local staff," he said. "We just need more resources put in place from different government agencies to help us get through this."

Hart said he was focused on setting up additional counselling by Friday, which was expected to be a tough day as people prepared to gather for the funeral of the 20-year-old woman.

The immediate days ahead may also be tough, Hart said, but his community has the power to heal together.

He said while there's no single answer to tackle the root causes of suicide, the community is working through possible solutions to keep young people occupied and connected with their culture.

He said activities that bring youth onto the land, spending time with their families and being immersed in their language are important steps towards long-term healing.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is working with Sheshatshiu leadership to address gaps in youth services and to plan community healing events for the next two months, including a five-day grief counselling event to be held this month.

Spokesperson Martine Stevens said funding has been provided for 10 additional youth workers, one supervisor and four security officers to accommodate 24-hour drop-in services.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunatsiavut Inuit Government are also providing additional supports.

Premier Dwight Ball said he has spoke with Chief Hart about how best to provide resources. Two social workers from the Labrador-Grenfell health authority have been on the ground since last Saturday, Ball said.

"Appeals for help from the community of Sheshatshiu underscore the fact that while much has been accomplished in improving mental-health and addictions services throughout the province, much more needs to be done," Ball said in Wednesday statement.

High suicide rates among Indigenous people in Labrador have been documented in a 2016 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study found suicide rates were 14 times higher for Innu people in Labrador compared to non-Indigenous rates in Newfoundland, drawing on from Statistics Canada reports over 17 years ending in 2009.

Reports showed a suicide rate of 114 deaths per year for every 100,000 Innu people, compared to eight per 100,000 in Newfoundland.

Despite tough times and a period of grieving ahead for Sheshatshiu, Hart said he's confident his strong community can come together.

"I always have hope. Even if I'm no longer a chief down the road, you've got to have hope for your community."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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