NDP says Ottawa not funding enough mental-health workers

Saskatchewan has endured the suicide deaths of four young girls this month

SASKATOON – A New Democrat MP says the federal government is failing to address the mental-health problems of indigenous people.

Charlie Angus, the NDP critic for indigenous and northern affairs, made the comment following the suicides of four young girls in northern Saskatchewan this month.

He said Ottawa plans to fund only half the number of mental-health teams needed to reach every community.

The youngest, a 10-year-old girl, killed herself in Deschambault Lake, about 500 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

First Nations officials in Saskatchewan said there have also been numerous suicide attempts so far in October and more than 20 youths are considered at risk.

“Until we start to see that willingness to move a major, major response and a commitment and an engagement with the communities to put children first, we’re just repeating the ’60s scoop,” Angus said Friday in Saskatoon.

“We’re repeating the residential schools. And we’re repeating the failure in this generation in community after community.”

The federal government responded late Friday by noting that it is working with First Nations in Saskatchewan to deal with the crisis.

“Health Canada has ensured the mental health workers and other health care professionals requested by the communities are available,” Health Minister Jane Philpott and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a joint news release.

The ministers said these efforts are in addition to the $34 million Ottawa is already contributing toward mental health services in Saskatchewan this year.

They said the recent Liberal budget also includes increased spending on education, child welfare, housing and infrastructure to bolster support for First Nations across Canada.

Angus’s riding in northern Ontario includes the Attawapiskat reserve, which had a string of suicide attempts earlier this year.

He was joined at a news conference by Georgina Jolibois, NDP MP for Desnethé-Misinnipi-Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan.

Jolibois said she has a message for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I know aboriginal communities across Canada — First Nations, Metis and northerners — we’re looking for that nation-to-nation meeting. You said you were going to step up to the plate and we’re still waiting,” she said.

Earlier this week, Trudeau called the Saskatchewan suicides a tragedy and said the government is committed to working with indigenous communities to deal with the problem.

Bob Merasty of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said what’s needed is more funding for both mental health and community programs.