Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says he doesn’t think enough is being done to support mental wellness in Canada's Aboriginal communities.
Miller says he has been in touch with the Shamattawa First Nation and has offered to connect mental-health specialists with the northern Manitoba community following a seven-year-old child's suicide attempt.
The attempt prompted Chief Eric Redhead to declare a state of emergency earlier this week and to call on the federal government for more help.
Redhead's own sister, a 32-year-old mother of four, killed herself earlier this month.
Two crisis teams from Manitoba Indigenous organizations were planning to head to the remote community.
Miller says urgent steps need to be taken to support the community now, but there must also be longer-term strategies.
"The particular age of the youth in question is especially heartbreaking," the minister said during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.
The community has reported an uptick in suicide attempts and mental-health crises during the pandemic, the chief said Tuesday.
Redhead said health-care staff are exhausted, especially after the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic's second wave.
Canadian Forces members were dispatched to Shamattawa in December at a time when about one-third of the community's population of 1,300 had tested positive for the virus.
Miller said a lack of culturally relevant mental-health services in many Indigenous communities has been an ongoing problem, but it's been exacerbated by the pandemic.
"It's clear that we are, as a country, not dealing with mental health and suicide in a way that is yielding the results that we all would like to see."
All levels of government need to work on solutions that must also address housing, education and infrastructure gaps on First Nations, Miller said.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tweeted that Indigenous communities must have on-the-ground support, especially during the pandemic.
"The impacts of COVID-19 have taken an emotional toll on many, and during a difficult time, I offer support to Shamattawa and anyone struggling," Bellegarde said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press