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Suicide within Canada's First Nations: Part 2

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This topic is a continuation of Part 1

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Ontario's native suicide rate one of the highest in the world:

Louise Elliott authored a report for the Canadian Press in 2000-NOV:

"A November 1999 report co-authored by [British sociologist Colin] Samson for Survival International, a U.K.-based watchdog, called for immediate government action after it found an Innu suicide rate of 178 per 100,000 people between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. That's the highest documented rate in the world, says the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Suicidology.

But Pikangikum, a community of 2,000 people 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has an eight-year average of 213 suicides per 100,000 people between 1992 and 2000, and a nine-year average of 205 suicides per 100,000 people in the period between 1991 and this month, two independent Canadian experts said this week. The latest Pikangikum suicides has sent this year's rate soaring to 470 deaths per 100,000. That's 36 times the national average of 13 per 100,000, and in a city of three million people, would mean 14,100 deaths this year.

Michael Kral, a national expert on suicide who teaches psychology at the University of Windsor, calculated the nine-year average based on data from Health Canada, the department responsible for native health care. At this point it's off the scale, he said, adding the impact of suicide on the community has been horrendous.

Suicide is like a person - a spirit, says Kevin Suggashie, 28, who once tried to take his own life. Now he helps organize Pikangikum's nightly youth patrol. 'I don't think there's ever going to be a time when there's not going to be suicides here,' he said. The existence of the patrol is a grim testament to how entrenched suicide has become in Pikangikum culture; it is also, for many youth who have tried suicide, the thin line of hope between themselves and despair. Since 1995, young volunteers have scoured the community almost every night trying to stop the dying. They also target the huddles of gas-sniffers whose spine-chilling howls permeate the community at night, but the young addicts often scatter into the darkness before patrollers can reach them. At peak suicide times like this summer and fall, there's an attempt or two every night, and now, in mid-November, the attempts are down to a few a week, Suggashie says.

The problem, while worst in Pikangikum, is region-wide. ...

Stan Beardy, the grand chief of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, says he's not surprised Pikangikum's suicide rate ranks among the highest in the world. Something is very drastically wrong there, he said.

In the world, Canada always portrays itself as No. 1 for quality of life and health. But at the reserve level, it's 62nd - it's Third World conditions. To Samson of Survival International, government inaction in Pikangikum is just one more sign Canada's unfathomable disregard for native health. There is a massive cultural denial in Canada (on native health) that extends to the highest level, he said during a visit to Sheshatshiu last week. In all my dealings with the Canadian government over the last seven years, I've been met with a stony silence." 13

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2000's: A talk by National Chief Matthew Coon Come:

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Matthew Coon Come gave a talk on 2001-FEB-26 to a native health conference in Ottawa. 4He made the following points:


A First Nation Community in northern Manitoba recently had several suicides in one year. They begged the chief medical examiner of the province to hold an inquest. He refused. The community then wrote a letter to the provincial minister responsible. While waiting for his response, there were two more suicides. The minister finally refused, stating that the situation in this small community was not unusual; other aboriginal communities were also experiencing suicides. Since then, there have been two more suicides. Chief Come asked "What if another community in Canada with a population of 5,500 people had over 100 attempted suicides recorded by the RCMP in one year? Would there be an inquest? Would there be news? Would people be angry? Would a government be forced to act -- to do something about it? "


There are also overwhelming health concerns:

"...Aboriginal children have less than half the chance of other Canadians to survive their first year of life." [Editor's comment" We hope that this is in error. This would imply that the infant mortality rate among newborns is greater than 50%. We suspect that he meant that the mortality rate was twice that of the rest of Canada.]


The death rate of aboriginal people from injury, poisoning and violence is five times higher than the Canadian average.


The incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome is 25 times greater than the world's average.


The incidence of TB is ten times higher than in the rest of Canada.


In some northern Cree communities, almost half of those over 45 have diabetes.


Chief Come attributes these problems to:

The elimination of traditional Naive culture and the "sudden and forced elimination of our traditional means of subsistence...As people turn away from their lands, they grow obese and become ill."


Poverty and unemployment in Aboriginal communities. Youth have no hope of finding a job


Many of the homes are infected with mould.


There is a serious housing shortage.


Medical services are under funded. Some clinics are closed because of lack of staff.

During 2002 (?) Health Canada released a major report with the encouraging title: "Acting On What We Know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations." The word "acting" must be particularly welcome to the First Nations. It is an undated report. It was apparently published before 2010-MAR-31 because that was the date on which their web site copy of the report was last updated. But an even better indication of the age of the report may be its Appendix C "List of Documents Reviewed." Many were dated with the years 2000 and 2001, but non were more recent.

A roundtable on children's mental health was held in Toronto, ON on 2005-FEB-11. Data was presented stating that the average youth suicide rate across Canada is 18 deaths per 100,000 youths. The rate among aboriginal youth is 108 per 100,000 -- six times higher. 11

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2006 to now: Depraved indifference and neglect by the Canadian Federal Government:

With the defeat of the Federal Liberal government in 2004 and its replacement by a Conservative government under Stephen Harper, action on the high suicide rate among the First Nations appears to have ground to a halt.

A 2006 web page titled "First Nations, Inuit and Métis: Suicide Prevention" discusses Health Canada

"... working with national Aboriginal organizations on an evidence-based national strategy to address suicide prevention. A key element of the strategy is to support community-based solutions to youth suicide, which is rooted in the evidence regarding what is most likely to be effective in preventing Aboriginal youth suicide.

It costs little for civil servants to collect evidence, interface with Native groups, evaluate effectiveness of past programs, develop a strategy, etc. It costs a lot to actually implement programs and get serious about saving lives.

It may worth noting that when we accessed this page on 2011-MAY-13, it had last been updated more than five years previously on 2006-MAR-06. Apparently the government is still in evidence collecting mode, even as the bodies pile up. 14

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Unknown date: Solutions:

The B.C. Institute on Family Violence (BCIFV) conducted a telephone survey of 35 First Nation people from British Columbia. They made a number of recommendations to alleviate self-destructive behavior. They recommended that Native Canadians:

bullet Regain a positive self-image -- particularly the youth -- through the reintroducion of traditional religious and cultural practices.

bullet Recognize suicide as a major social problem; develop suicide prevention programs and crisis management teams.

bullet Promote individual and community wellness.

bullet Improve parenting skills.

bullet Provide traditional, holistic therapy.

bullet Train others for caregiver and administrative positions.

bullet Seek cooperation among all levels of government to improve economic conditions on reserves.

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A suicide prevention video for First Nations:

Gryphon Productions of West-Vancouver, BC, has produced a video "A life worth living" describing efforts by First Nations across Canada who are having an impact on high suicide rates. The video describes:

"... aboriginal groups who teach traditional and cultural values, raise suicide awareness through a cross-country walk, create youth programs and training the trainer workshops. Included is a helpful discussion guide."

You can contact Gryphon Productions via their web site at: Details on this video are at:

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2011-MAY-11, Volunteer suicide prevention group:

The Anglican Journal reported that in the Spring of 2011:

"... about 20 ordained and lay, aboriginal and non-aboriginal volunteers from the [Anglican] diocese of Moosonee took part in 'River of Life,' an online suicide awareness and prevention course developed by the Calgary-based Center for Suicide Prevention. Volunteers from the diocese of Keewatin are to follow next."

"Endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Assembly of First Nations, the course is rooted in aboriginal culture and was developed over a three-year period that involved extensive research and consultations with aboriginal elders and community members, said Patterson in an interview. To date, mental health workers, addiction counselors, nurses, community outreach workers and social services personnel working in aboriginal communities across Canada have taken the course." 12,17

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. Sadly, almost all of the hyperlinks are not active today.

  1. "Suicide in Canada," at:
  2. "Canadian task force on preventive health care: Prevention of suicide," at:
  3. "Statistical information" at a web site that has gone offline and whose URL has been picked up by a porn company.
  4. "Indian Health Service Trends, 1989-1991"
  5. Black Bear, "Life is a gift, we must nurture it..." at: the same web site as is mentioned above in Reference 3.
  6. Matthew Coon Come, "Brave words from a native leader," Toronto Star, 2001-FEB-3, Page A28 (Editorials and opinion page)
  7. Za-geh-do-win Information Clearinghouse. Provides information to any resident of Ontario, Canada who requires info on issues relating to aboriginal people. They have a list of materials on suicide at:
  8. "CDC, Violence Surveillance Summary Series, No. 2. 1996," cited in: "Suicide in the United States," Center for Disease Control, at:
  9. Glen Coulthard, "Colonization, Indian policy, suicide and Aboriginal peoples," at:
  10. "Choosing Life: Special Report On Suicide Among Aboriginal People," Royal Commission on Aboriginal People., Ottawa: Canada Communication Group Publishing, 1995. Cited in Reference 9.
  11. Carol Goar, "Tackling the issue of teen suicide," The Toronto Star, 2004-FEB-11, Page A22.
  12. Marites Sison, "Program addresses high suicide rate in Canada's North," Anglican Journal, 2011-MAY-11, at:
  13. Louise Elliott, "Ontario native suicide rate one of highest in world, expert says," Canadian Press, 2000-NOV-27, at:
  14. "First Nations, Inuit and Métis: Suicide Prevention," Health Canada, 2006-MAR-06, at:
  15. Colin Samson, et al., "Canada's Tibet: the killing of the Innu," Survival International, at: This is a PDF file.
  16. "Acting On What We Know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations." Health Canada, 2010-MAY-31, at:
  17. River of Life logo offers the River of Life aboriginal youth suicide prevention online course as a tool for caregivers to address youth suicide within their communities. See:

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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAR-2
Latest update: 2011-MAY-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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