May 2, 2016
Following the 2011 housing crisis, the northern community of Attawapiskat has once again come to national attention with its high rate of suicide of Indigenous youth amongst First Nations Peoples. These tragedies forced the chief and council for the Attawapiskat First Nation to declare a state of emergency on April 9, 2016. The Toronto Youth Food Policy Council is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of what has been described as an epidemic of youth suicide attempts in Attawapiskat First Nation. We stand in solidarity with those in Winnipeg who continue to occupy the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices as a direct action in order to demand immediate attention and change. Occupy INAC Winnipeg took over the INAC office on April 14, 2016 and moved the peaceful protest to the street on May 1, calling on the Federal Government to abolish the Indian Act, ensure that the Prime Minister visits Attawapiskat, and end discrimination against two-spirit people. Toronto and Vancouver groups also occupied INAC offices, with the Vancouver protest ending when the ministers of INAC and Canadian Heritage agreed to meet with the Vancouver group in May.
This youth crisis is rooted in settler-colonial history. The competing colonial claims for territory and trade rights, maintained by both Britain and France in eastern North America for well over a century, eventually led to a protracted war between these powers waged across Indigenous territory, with devastating results for Indigenous Peoples. Ongoing forms of colonization have denied Indigenous Peoples material subsistence and maintained atrocious poverty rates among Indigenous Peoples, especially among First Nations people living on reserves. Arising out of disputes by federal and provincial governments over who is responsible, as well as the blatant normalization of inhumane treatment of Indigenous Peoples, we see high suicide rates, unemployment, chronic illness and injury, and incarceration. Despite inadequate living conditions in Attawapiskat, a CBC investigation revealed that diamond exploitation in the community paid out only $226 in royalties to the Province, compared to $3.89 million in salt mining royalties.
Resource exploitation and power inequity directly provoke these tragedies in Attawapiskat. In solidarity, the TYFPC rejects the replication of systems of oppression that deny Indigenous land rights, agency, and humanity. We cannot strengthen and build our movements without rejecting ongoing forms of colonization and interlocking oppressions. We fully support the calls for Prime Minister Justin Pierre Trudeau to meet with, and adequately respond, to the needs of youth in Attawapiskat.
The Toronto Youth Food Policy Council