National chief seeks permanent solutions to First Nations crises

By Jill Sperling
May 5, 2016 - 2:12pm Updated: May 5, 2016 - 2:52pm

KAMLOOPS — The Tk'emlups First Nation was recently visited by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. 

While he was in the community to sit in on a panel review of the KGHM-Ajax Mine proposal he also took some time to provide an update on where matters stood for a couple of issues making headlines lately. 

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The deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women are long-standing issues that have been top of mind for many First Nations people. Under the Conservative government calls for a national inquiry were dismissed. However, a change in government has resulted in a change of position, which is welcome news for Aboriginal leaders. 

"We're hoping within the next month or so that the terms of reference and the structure will be announced, to not only First Nations people but to all of Canada," Bellegarde said. "It's not only a First Nations issue, dealing with the 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, it's a national issue, it's an international issue."

According to Bellegarde, the process of developing an inquiry is one that cannot be rushed. 

"You've got to take the time. Sooner is always better, but you take the time to do it proper. This is the first time it's happening and I've always said it's a two year process," Bellegarde said. 

"It's not just the federal government who should be involved in this, provincial governments have a role to play, big cities have a role to play."

Bellegarde said it is not necessary to wait for the official start of the federal inquiry to start moving towards change.

The AFN National Chief also addressed the recent crisis at the northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat. Attempted suicides have become an epidemic among youth in that community, highlighting a need for more mental health supports for First Nations across the country.

"The youth suicide rate among First Nations people is so high. It's five to seven times the national average."

Bellegarde has visited the community of Attawapiskat and believes the crisis is the result of a combination of things, from poor living conditions to the intergenerational effects of residential schools. 

He said there are immediate things that need to happen to end the crisis, but there must also be a more permanent solution. 

"There's got to be a long-term strategy," Bellegarde said. "And it's not just Attawapiskat, it's right across First Nations country to lower that and make sure there's a long-term strategy in place to deal with mental health and the high youth suicide rate."

He believes the federal government is taking strides in that direction. He said there had been discussions with Minister of Health Jane Philpott about starting up a youth forum in order to hear directly from youth what is required to bring hope back to these young people. 

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