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Story Publication logo April 28, 2017

Finding Healing Through a Return to Traditions in Attawapiskat


The northern lights fill the sky over the remote First Nations community of Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is an isolated First Nation community located in northern Ontario, Canada, at the mouth of the Attawapiskat River on James Bay. On April 9, 2016, the community of approximately 2000 people declared a state of emergency after being overwhelmed with attempted suicides, over 100 attempts in a ten month period. Image by David Maurice Smith/Oculi. Canada, 2016.

Gaining understanding of the suicide crisis facing the Cree community of Attawapiskat, Ontario...


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.


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