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Cowichan Tribes in B.C. Declare State of Emergency Over Rash of Suicides

Cowichan First Nation in British Columbia has declared a state of emergency after a rash of suicides and attempts and will hold a press conference on May 14 to release data and call for help.
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The band council of the Cowichan Tribes in British Columbia has declared a state of emergency after a recent rash of suicides in their communities.

The tribes, located in the center of Vancouver Island, are planning a press conference on Monday May 14 to release further data and more information, the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial reported on Friday. The tribes had already been addressing the issue, which included a spike in both suicides and attempts, the newspaper reported.

"It means the number of attempts are too high," Chief Harvey Alphonse told the Canadian Press. "Unless we receive support from the feds and province, we may lose more community members to what feels like a hopeless situation, and although we have provided some resources, it is very limited, and employees are over-taxed with the burden of double duty."

Suicide is a taboo subject among aboriginals, and the tribe was already working to get people to open up about it, according to the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial. In April the Cowichan Tribes hosted three gatherings addressing the issue. The first, called Gathering of Light, attempted to shed light on the issue. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo spoke at the gathering, which was attended by youth, their parents and elders. He emphasized the essential role of traditional teachings and the importance of family ties, urging family and community to reach out at the first sign of trouble, and for young people in need to come forward, the newspaper said.

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The Canadian Press reported that between February 26 and April 26, four First Nations men committed suicide, three of them in their 20s and 30s, and from the Cowichan Tribes. The fourth suicide was a 72-year-old man, the B.C. Coroners Service told the Canadian Press.

Suicide is rampant among aboriginals, including Métis, Inuit and First Nations. A study released last year on youth suicides in Pikangikum First Nation in northwestern Ontario looked at some of the reasons behind the tragic phenomenon and found a link between that and family alcoholism, emotional vulnerability, and the lack of community and education. The suicide rate among aboriginals, especially youth, has been linked to intergenerational trauma in the aftermath of colonization and the residential schools era.

"We believe that the family is the core," Alphonse said to the News Leader Pictorial back in B.C. "That's where we need to begin."