Overcrowding and suicide attempts taking toll on residents of Shamattawa

A fire that destroyed Shamattawa’s only grocery store and the band office in September is only one of the difficulties that residents there have been dealing with, First Nations leaders said at a press conference in Winnipeg Nov. 15.

The community is also struggling with a lack of housing and the problems that accompany overcrowding as well as mental health crises.

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“Our community has experienced many challenges for a long time and most recently it has become more pronounced,” said Shamattawa First Nation Coun. Liberty Redhead in a press release. “Suicide is a major issue. We do not want to lose any more of our people.”

There have been 92 Mental Health Act complaints related to suicide attempts and mental health crises in 2016 and one completed suicide. There were 99 such complaints and six completed suicides in 2015 and there have been more than 1,000 Mental Health Act complaints and 22 completed suicides reported to the RCMP since 2009.

“The community is doing its best, however they need government support,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson. “The community workers are also affected by suicide attempts and cannot help community members who come to them needing a place to live. We are doing what we can in terms of supporting the community with mental health and supporting youth with some immediate short-term solutions, however we also need concrete long-term solutions for the people of Shamattawa. This includes movement on a permanent building they’ve lost and housing.”

Recreation space for youth has had to be sacrificed for a temporary grocery store housed in the school gym and recreation centre and the average number of people in one house on the First Nation is nine, as there are about 1,400 residents and only 161 houses.

Chief Jeffrey Napoakesik says that medevac flights for people who have attempted suicide cost up to $11,000 each. Some of the actions the leaders say the community needs include immediate movement on replacing the grocery store/band office building and development of a comprehensive housing assessment and a community housing action plan, as well as replacement of equipment such as phones, computers and radios to communicate with emergency responders.

Shamattawa is one of Northern Manitoba’s most remote and isolated Northern Cree First Nations fly-in communities, about 360 kilometres by air east of Thompson and south of Hudson Bay, at the junction of Gods River and Echoing River.

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