Canadian native group tops suicide list

By Time of article published Nov 8, 1999

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London - The Innu people of eastern Canada suffer the highest suicide rate in the world due to the despair caused by an assimilation policy similar to China's campaign in Tibet, a tribal rights group said on Monday.

In a report titled Canada's Tibet - the killing of the Innu, the London-based organisation Survival acknowledged that the 20 000 Innu were not tortured or jailed but said the goals of China and Canada were little different.

"The long-term plan is similar for both countries - namely, the eventual absorption of a troublesome 'minority' into the larger population, thus opening up valuable land and resources for exploitation," the report said.

"And the Innu, like the Tibetans, are dying. They do not need to be shot - they are killing themselves at a rate unsurpassed anywhere in the world."

The Innu - a grouping of the Montagnais, Naskapi and Atikamekw aboriginal peoples of northeastern Quebec and another group in Labrador in the province of Newfoundland - dispute the Canadian government's jurisdiction over their lands.

Deprivation and alcohol abuse were key factors in attempted and successful suicides among the Innu living in small, poor and often isolated communities in Quebec and Labrador, it said.

The report said there were eight suicides between 1990 and 1998 in the Atlantic coast community of Utshimassits (the Innu name for Davis Inlet) alone - equivalent to a rate of 178 deaths per 100 000 people.

Canada's overall rate is about 14 per 100 000 people. Russia and the Baltic states, ranked the top countries for suicides, average 80-100 per 100 000 people.

"Utshimassits is a community living in almost unimaginable squalor and disarray," the report said, describing wooden shacks with no running water, poor roads and scant health care.

"These conditions are reflected in the appalling health and mortality statistics for Davis Inlet, where family breakdown, sexual abuse, drunkenness and alcohol-related disease, violence, accidents and self-harm become endemic."

The sad statistics were particularly poignant for Innu leader Napes Ashini, who had come to London to publicise the report but was forced to return home after learning that his youngest son had killed himself.

"We have a lot of problems with alcohol and particularly with suicides that we've been having," he told BBC Radio. "It's about time that it cannot be overlooked by the government of Canada."

Survival said the Canadian government should suspend industrial development projects in the Innu-occupied region until it accepted Innu ownership of land and resources.

The Innu have been challenging the Canadian government over the huge Churchill Falls hydro-electric project and say they will only agree to further development if a treaty giving them rights over their ancestral lands is signed. - Reuters

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