Neskantaga emergency stabilizes
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Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias said the community’s state of emergency has stabilized with the help of visiting trauma teams and the beginning of goose hunting season.
“It has stabilized the community pretty well,” Moonias said about the trauma teams, noting the workers rotate in and out of the community on a regular basis with about six working in the community at any one time. “There’s about nine people — they take turns.”
Moonias said the trauma teams have been helping community members address some of the issues, including four suicides, three sudden deaths and about 20 attempted suicides in 2013, which resulted in the April 17 declaration of a state of emergency.
“And at the same time, we had the blessing of the geese hunting season,” Moonias said. “The geese started flying so a lot of our people took their land-based activities there. Some of them are still out there and that really helped the community.”
Moonias said a number of people have also visited the community, including Bob Rae, Matawa’s recently appointed First Nations’ negotiator for Ring of Fire negotiations, and representatives from Mamow Sha way gi kay win: North-South Partnership for Children and Keewaytinook Okimakanak.
“And we had general community meetings all last week to try to get people motivated and at the same time to make that connection between the Elders and the youth,” Moonias said.
“That’s what is needed in the community because they have strayed apart; the Elders and the youth weren’t working together. Now the youth have addressed that issue, saying there has to be a connection between the Elders and the youth.”
Moonias said the community is planning a land-based activity for youth at high risk this summer on the lake and up the river. Youth make up about 75 per cent of the community members.
“We do have lots of people away right now that were high risk,” Moonias said. “They are either in Thunder Bay or in the cities or on the land.”
Moonias said it is “really different” out on the land for community members as they do not have any distractions from modern life, such as television, phones or computers.
“They do fishing, they do hunting,” Moonias said. “They enjoy the woods, the bush, their camping.”
Moonias said about 16 people from the North-South Partnership for Children and about seven or eight people from Keewaytinook Okimakanak have been helping out in the community.
“They were dealing with the young generation mainly,” Moonias said. “And the youth had recommendations that we get the youth council working in the community so they can address some of the issues.”
The North-South Partnership for Children group helped with a May 11 arts festival that involved about 100 people working on a variety of activities, including drawing, mural-painting, beading, photography and music performances.
Cleevis Quisses, a 25-year-old youth, said art is an important outlet for youth.
“When I’m feeling bad, I have to put down something, through notes, not words. Some other people have their own thing, and it helps them,” Quisses said.
“It shows how people are feeling. Even if it’s just a scribble, it’s still art. To me, that’s what art is: it’s expressing.”
Art pieces from the festival were recently shipped down to Toronto to be featured in an exhibit.
“There’s talent up here, in isolated places like reserves and communities,” Quisses said. “People need to know that there’s actually people living up here.”
Neskantaga declared the state of emergency a day after the suicide of a 19-year-old youth in the community.
“We have reached a breaking point and our community is under crisis,” Neskantaga councillor Roy Moonias said in April. “Our community is exhausted emotionally and physically as we try to pick up the pieces from these tragic events.”
The community released a list of issues facing its 421 members when the state of emergency was declared, including about 50 per cent of the population being addicted to prescription drugs, sexual abuse, inadequate policing services and no access to proper mental health and addictions treatments and counselling.
Roy Moonias said the community has also been facing “overwhelming pressures” to respond to demands of the mining industry and the provincial government over the Ring of Fire.
“There are no treatments here, and more and more young people are taking their lives,” Roy Moonias said in April. “This is unacceptable and something must change.”
Chief Moonias said the situation has been very stressful for community members, including himself.
“I was very tired yesterday when I came out,” Chief Moonias said on May 17, noting he left the community to attend a Matawa chiefs meeting.