After a year of being under a state of emergency, Chief Peter Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation is once again calling for help.
Neskantaga is a remote fly-in Oji-Cree community of about 420 people, located on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake in northwestern Ontario. In spring 2013, Moonias declared a state of emergency following seven youth suicides and 27 attempted suicides within a 12-month period.
Since last summer, three more youths have taken their lives, including Moonias’ 29-year-old son Duane, who died on December 26, 2013. Tragedy struck again when Moonias’ 16-year-old granddaughter Alyssa took her life earlier this month.
Chief Peter Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation is calling on the federal government to help in preventing youth suicides in his community.
“We need help,” said Moonias. “We lost too many people already.”
Moonias blames the string of suicides on the deplorable living conditions in the community, which is located in the mineral-rich Ring of Fire.
The community has been on a boil-water advisory since 1995.
And despite Health Canada’s contributions of more than $420,000 to the reserve last year, Moonias says the situation is only getting worse in the community, where many residents face a lack of access to fresh food, and live in overcrowded and mould-infested homes.
“We have diseases and sores and skin rashes from the water when you take a shower,” he said. “Our babies, our kids run around with sores.”
But the proposed Ring of Fire project could have the potential to turn things around by creating thousands of jobs for years to come.
On Monday, the Ontario government announced it was willing to contribute $1 billion to develop an all-season transportation corridor to the Ring of Fire -- provided that Ottawa matches the funds -- in order to develop the region.
The Ring of Fire is located approximately 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, and a lack of a transportation route has been a major barrier to the project’s development.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce estimates the chromite mining and smeltering development project, used to make stainless steel, could generate $9.4 billion in new economic activity over the next ten years.
“There is huge potential here,” Josh Hjartarson of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce told CTV News. “And not only that, but huge potential to create long-term employment.”
But any benefits from the proposed mining project are still a ways off for the community, desperate to end its youth suicide crisis.