"What Survival reveals...has shocked and appalled me. It is
clear that behind Canada's liberal reputation lies a scandal the
government is desperate to hide. If Canadians knew what their government
is doing to the Innu, they would be astonished and ashamed."
Julie Christie, actress.
Since early 1999, the United Nations has rated Canada as the "best"
nation in the world to live. This rating is based on a wide variety of
factors: citizens' average economic status, personal rights, life
expectancy, infant mortality etc. But concentration on averages always
obscures the extremes. Some Canadians have a very high quality of life;
others suffer in poverty without decent education, a job, an adequate
place to live, and without hope for the future.
Thhe main author of this web site volunteered for two intervals, each five years in duration,
at a local distress center. (Distress centers are called crisis centers
and suicide prevention centers, hot lines, etc. in the U.S. and elsewhere).
During the training course that this author took in 1983, the instructors
mentioned that Canada's Native population has the highest suicide rate of
any identifiable group in the world. No easily accessible documentation of this fact has
been seen...until now.
The Innu consist of "a grouping of the Montagnais, Naskapi and
Atikamekw aboriginal peoples of northeastern Quebec, and another group in
Labrador in the province of Newfoundland." 5 In
1967, the Newfoundland government convinced the Mushuau Innu (the people
of the barrens) to abandon their traditional location on the mainland of
Labrador where they had been nomadic hunters of caribou for about six
millennia. Unfortunately, nobody in the government appears to have taken
into account that centuries of their "pride, traditions, and
spirituality [were] tied to the land of their ancestors..." 6 They were resettled on the Davis Inlet where they were expected
to establish a fishery. "...their social fabric soon fell apart." 6The provincial government reneged on its promises of
fresh water and sewage systems. Suicide rates mounted.
1993 TV news program:
A TV news broadcast in 1993-JAN made some Canadians aware of major social
problems among the Innu. It showed six 12- to 14-year-old Innu children at
Davis Inlet who:
"... attempted suicide by inhaling gasoline fumes from
plastic bags. When discovered, the youths fought off attempts to be
rescued and screamed that they wanted to die." 6
Survival International is a worldwide organization that supports:
"... tribal peoples. It stands for their right to decide their
own future and helps them protect their lives, lands and human
On 1999-NOV-8, they issued a
report 'Canada's Tibet – the killing of the Innu.' 2Survival International reports that the Innu people in Canada's
northeastern regions have the highest suicide rate in the world: 178 per
100,000 persons per year. This compares to an average suicide rate of 14
per 100,000 elsewhere in Canada, and 12 per 100,000 in the U.S.
"Utshimassits is a community living in almost
unimaginable squalor and disarray. They described wooden shacks with no
running water, poor roads and scant health care. These conditions
are reflected in the appalling health and mortality statistics for Davis
Inlet, where family breakdown, sexual abuse, drunkenness and
alcohol-related disease, violence, accidents and self-harm become endemic.''
According to the Toronto Star newspaper,
there are two main causes:
Incompetent, paternal, racist government policies under the guise of
benevolent progress, and
The sexual and physical abuse of Innu children at the hands of a
small minority of Roman
Catholic priests over a period of generations. 3
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Brian McAndrew, "Innu suicide rate highest in the world: British
report blames Ottawa, Catholic Priests," The Toronto Star,
newspaper, Toronto ON, 1999-NOV-8, Page A1 and A14. The article is no longer online.
M. Mittelstaedt & K. Haggart, "U.K. group calls treatment of
Innu 'Canada's Tibet': suicide of native spokesman's son on the eve of
launch in London of damning report highlights despair in aboriginal
communities." The Globe and Mail newspaper, Toronto ON, 1999-NOV-8,
Page A3. It is not available online.