There appears to be a direct correlation between alleged sexual abuse on northern Ontario reserves and a number of recent suicides involving young girls, says Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
Fiddler, whose organization represents 49 of Ontario’s First Nation communities, says high rates of abuse are also being reported to police in his territory.
“The victims of these suicides are young girls, young women,” he said in an interview.
“We’ve had young girls as young as 10 or 11 take their own lives.”
The magnitude of the problem prompted Fiddler to request a meeting that happened Monday evening with Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as well as Liberal cabinet ministers Carolyn Bennett, Jane Philpott and Patty Hajdu.
“We had to take some action,” Fiddler said, noting young people with mental health challenges are flown out of communities almost daily to centres such as Thunder Bay, Ont.
Data is required to have a more complete picture of what is going on in communities, Fiddler said, noting police and mental health supports are not adequate to cope with the scope of the problem.
Officers and nurses also require appropriate tools to gather evidence in the immediate aftermath of an incident because they lack sexual assault forensic evidence kits, he said.
Sexual abuse was also a consistent theme raised during the sessions held as the Liberal government looked to design the inquiry into missing and murdered women.
“This is, in some ways, well known but not being dealt with,” Bennett said Tuesday.
“There’s a whole continuum of things we need to do differently if we are going to stop the cycle … such that people can get healing and such that this stops.”
As part of a months-long investigation by The Canadian Press, leading indigenous voices have described sexual abuse in a number of communities, drawing links to aboriginal suicide and missing and murdered indigenous women.
Abuse is “rampant” on reserves, Bellegarde conceded Tuesday, adding his chiefs must confront the issue at the community level.
It was important to hold a meeting with the three federal ministers, Bellegarde said, but he stressed much more work is required.
“We are not going to resolve anything in an hour and a little bit of a meeting, but we are going to keep collaborating,” he said.