Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation in Labrador declares suicide crisis
SHESHATSHUI, N.L. -- An Indigenous community in central Labrador has declared a crisis following 10 suicide attempts in less than a week.
In a statement posted on social media Tuesday night, Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation said the rash of attempts followed the death of a young woman over the weekend.
He did not say how the young woman died, but RCMP confirmed that the body of a 20-year-old woman was recovered from nearby Lake Melville on Saturday after a report of drowning.
Hart said the community of roughly 1,300 people has also been struggling with more than a dozen other deaths in recent months, all of those from natural causes.
He said the deaths have taken a particular toll on the young people in the community and there are not enough supports in place to address the grief.
"We feel the pain that is being felt in our community and hope to find a way forward to heal together," Hart's statement on Facebook read.
As of Tuesday, the chief said he had reached out for help from the premier's office, the RCMP and other organizations, and short-term support programming would be set up at three locations.
"These short-term solutions will allow us to work to establish longer-term services that can provide necessary supports in our community," he said.
Julie Pike, a social worker at the local healing centre in Sheshatshiu, said additional support workers including trauma counsellors have been called in to ensure people's needs are met.
"We're hoping that we can intervene now and provide any services ... to help these youth and help these children stabilize somewhat so that we can move forward with future care for them," she said.
One key issue is that young people experiencing trauma do not always have an outlet or a place to go when they are struggling, Pike said -- especially at night.
More qualified workers are necessary to keep the health clinic and a nearby youth centre staffed 24 hours per day for the next few weeks, she said.
Premier Dwight Ball said in a statement Wednesday that he spoke with Chief Hart about providing additional resources, referencing two social workers from the Labrador-Grenfell health authority who have been providing counselling in the community since Saturday.
"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's statement read.
Disproportionately high suicide rates among Indigenous people in Labrador were 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.
Those findings were drawn 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.