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Spate of Suicide Attempts Hits Canadian Tribe

Canadian Village Sees Suicide Spike 1:27

A Canadian tribe declared a state of emergency in their remote territory after the community was ravaged by a spate of suicide attempts.

The Attawapiskat First Nation made the declaration and asked Ottawa for help after 11 residents tried to kill themselves on Saturday, including a 10-year-old, the CBC reported.

"Trying to be positive here, but getting emotional drain," a desperate Chief Bruce Shisheesh said on Twitter. "Need your prayers here."

There have been more than 100 suicide attempts and one death since September among the 2,000 residents of Attawapiskat, which is located in a remote section of Ontario on Hudson Bay, according to the CBC.

Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Graham Hughes / AP

"The news from Attawapiskat is heartbreaking," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted. "We'll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples."

While Trudeau dispatched teams of doctors and mental health workers to northern Ontario, the Canadian parliament held an emergency debate Tuesday evening aimed at addressing the growing crisis.

Canadian MP Charlie Angus opened the debate around 6:40 p.m. ET, initiating a passionate dialogue that was still taking place four hours later.

"The greatest resource we have in this country, Mr. Speaker, isn't the gold, it isn't the oil, it's the children," he said.

Angus, who represents the Attawapiskat area in parliament, has been pushing the Canadian government for more resources to help a people long-ravaged by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse — and hopelessness.

Angus called for clear measures from both sides that would end the crisis - not just temporarily remedy it.

"This isn't just particularly about Attawapiskat, it's about who we are as Canadians and our whole nation," Angus said. "The greatest tragedy is the image of these helpless communities, and these lost children," he said.

Minister of Health Dr. Jane Philpott thanked Angus, and highlighted some of the staggering suicide rates in aboriginal communities.

"We as a government must act quickly and compassionately," she said, adding that suicide rates among indigenous people are some of the highest in the world.

"When I think that there are communities in our country where ... young people in groups are deciding that there is no hope for their future, we must do better, we have to find a way to go forward," said Philpott.

Most of those present appeared to agree that addressing the socio-economic conditions of people in these communities would also improve healthcare and lives.

Angus also emphasized that the gap that exists in terms of available healthcare between indigenous and non-indigenous communities must be closed.

MP Georgina Jolibois read the story of a woman in her jurisdiction who had to drive nearly 400 miles to get medical help for her suicidal daughter. Others bemoaned a lack of recreational programs or job opportunities.

Philpott also acknowledged health conditions in indigenous communities are "deplorable" and must be fixed.

Image: File photo of a tattered Canadian flag flying over a teepee in Attawapiskat Ontario
FILE: A tattered Canadian flag flies over a teepee in Attawapiskat, Ontario, on Dec. 17, 2011. POOL / Reuters