Home to the Swampy Cree First Nations people, the community of Attawapiskat, Ontario reached a dark tipping point in 2016. The Canadian town of only 2,000 declared a state of emergency in response to a heartbreaking 100 attempted suicides in a 10-month period. Sadly the events in Attawapiskat are not unique, they are a part of a greater struggle for all First Nations people in Canada resulting in suicide rates almost six times higher than their non-indigenous counterparts. The story begins centuries earlier with foreigners eager to take what was not theirs, starting a chain reaction of persecution and trauma yet to end.
For many in Attawapiskat the road to a healthier future begins with a return to the past through a reconnection with traditional ceremony and the land based activities of hunting, fishing and spending time in nature. While the modern techniques of mental health support and education are important components of their healing plan, a connection with what it means to be Cree resonates with many community members both young and old.
Attawapiskat is surrounded by wilderness and waterways teeming with wild food, plants used in traditional medicines and other natural resources that for generations sustained Cree communities and became a central focus of their cultural stories. Now, in the face of a mental health crisis that threatens their cultural fabric, a return to spirit is seen as a step forward.