State of emergency in Neskantaga

To what extent can a crisis – one that is recognised and acknowledged as such – make a certain history newly legible to its witnesses? A small First Nations community situated in Ontario’s far north may be a reluctant test case. In Neskantaga, with a population of just over 400, a catastrophic series of suicides over the past year – most recently, two in less than a week – has prompted Chief Peter Moonias to declare a state of emergency in an effort to obtain relief and support for his devastated people.

The declaration came on April 17, one day after the suicide of a 19-year-old from the community who was living in Thunder Bay; word of his death came a few minutes after band members had buried another individual in his 30s who died under similar circumstances the preceding week.  These events came just months after another young man took his own life in December, a circumstance that prompted the community to put its young people on suicide watch in an attempt to prevent further deaths. In the past year alone, Neskantaga has suffered seven sudden deaths and 20 suicide attempts.

“We have reached a breaking point and our community is under crisis,” declared Neskantaga First Nation Councillor Roy Moonias. “Our community is exhausted emotionally and physically as we try to pick up the pieces from these tragic events.”

Deborah Esch

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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