Last month in Ontario, Canada, James Bay, the chief for the Attawapiskat First Nation, declared a state of emergency after the indigenous community of about 2,000 people had 11 suicide attempts on a single day, April 9. Sadly, the indigenous communities in Canada have long struggled with high rates of suicide. In the Manitoba First Nation communities, five people have killed themselves since Christmas; and since last fall, over 100 people have attempted suicide in the Attawapiskat community. According to a report from Health Canada, suicide “is the leading cause of death for indigenous young people and adults up to 44.”
Indigenous communities in other parts of North America are also suffering. According to a study from the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide levels in the United States have reached a 30-year high, and Native American teens are at the greatest risk. In both countries, community leaders say that a variety of factors contribute to suicides among indigenous tribes, like poverty, inequality and inadequate health services. Both the Canadian and U.S. governments should do more for these communities, beginning with providing greater support for indigenous communities to deal with mental health issues. We must not forget these communities; as Pope Francis reminds us, every life “has inestimable value” and should be protected.