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Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation in N.L. declares suicide crisis

A First Nations community in Newfoundland and Labrador declared a crisis on Tuesday after 10 suicide attempts were reported in a matter of days. 

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart said the community is struggling to find support for those considering suicide. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

A First Nations community in Newfoundland and Labrador declared a crisis on Tuesday after 10 suicide attempts were reported in a matter of days.

Chief Eugene Hart of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation said the attempts followed the death of a 20-year-old woman, whose body was discovered Saturday afternoon in nearby Lake Melville. 

He said the community, about 30 kilometres northeast of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, has been grappling with loss in recent months, citing 14 deaths among its several thousand residents. Those deaths were all from natural causes.

Hart said the community lacks the necessary mental health services to deal with the grief, leading to greater risk among youth.

The priority is to get to those youths, add the support that’s needed.– Premier Dwight Ball

Since becoming aware of the number of attempts, Hart said the First Nation has requested more resources from agencies including the office of Premier Dwight Ball, the RCMP and Health Canada.

“The premier called me and he asked me, ‘What can we do?’ And we explained to him what assistance we need to put in place and he was very supportive,” Hart said. 

The community has some services in place, including a healing centre that’s open round the clock. 

“The healing centre is staffed there all night, it’s like a drop in,” Hart said. But more help is needed. 

“We can’t do it all. We’ve got resources as well but we need help outside as well, and that’s starting to roll in now as we’re speaking,” Hart said. 

Sheshatshiu is about 30 kilometres northeast of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador. (CBC)

The First Nation also needs help from Health Canada, he says, which has teams of crisis counsellors that can “come in and help us out.” 

“I think everyone [here] is just overwhelmed,” he said. 

The chief spoke publicly last year about his own family’s experience with suicide, telling CBC News at the time he noticed risk factors among others in Sheshatshiu​​​​​​, especially children returning from care outside the community.

Quick response is vital: premier

Premier Dwight Ball, also minister of Indigenous affairs as well as Labrador affairs, said additional resources were dispatched as soon as discussions with the community happened, and the province will send whatever other resources are needed.

“The priority is to get to those youths, add the support that’s needed there,” Ball said Wednesday.

“It’s a serious concern for us right now, so we’re working with the community through this difficult time.”

Ball said the situation in Sheshatshiu of suicide attempts in “extraordinary numbers” speaks to concerns he’s heard from Indigenous communities.

Premier Dwight Ball says he will be updated later on Wednesday to determine what other additional resources are needed to address the crisis in Sheshatshiu. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

“The research will show that when you look at suicide rates in Indigenous communities across the country — not just in Newfoundland and Labrador only, but across the country — we see disproportionate numbers,” Ball said.

“It’s extremely important that we respond quickly and provide the necessary services so that the support and the help is there for those youth that are reaching out.”

Ball said mental health in all communities is a vital issue for the province, adding that through his years in government, there have been serious situations in a number of regions.

“It’s something that I take very personal … it’s something that I really wanted to make a difference in,” he said.

“We are making a difference, but … today’s discussions with Sheshatshiu highlights the fact that there’s a lot more work that we need to do.”


Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/ (chat)

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

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