Indigenous activists from grassroots organizations such as Idle No More staged a sit-in in the lobby of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development in Toronto on Wednesday to call attention to a rash of suicide attempts by young people in the Attawapiskat First Nation.
Protesters first entered the office around 10 a.m. and hung a banner with "Attawapiskat First Nation" emblazoned on it along with the Mohawk Warrior Society flag.
Davyn Calfchild, the hereditary chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy from the Siksika Nation in Alberta, said he came to demand action for the children.
Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency after 11 people – 10 of them youth – tried to take their own lives on Saturday. On Monday, police helped thwart a suicide pact among a group of young people, including an eight-year-old, and several more people were taken to hospital on Tuesday.
Mr. Calfchild said the government isn't doing enough.
"Talking to the chiefs is one thing, giving money is what I call a temporary Band-Aid, but I want to know what their permanent solution is," he said.
"People need traditional healing, ceremonies, their elders – and [Indigenous Affairs] needs to start taking responsibility."
He said that if people attempted suicide at the same rate in Toronto, there would be a groundswell of support and resources.
Someone from the ministry addressed the protesters but not their demands, Cathy Calfchild said.
"She was basically talking at us," Ms. Calfchild said. "She said she spoke to the [Attawapiskat] chief. We wanted to make sure the voices of the children were heard. She kept referring to our demands, but they're not ours, they're the children's of Attawapiskat – First Nation children everywhere."
Five years ago, protesters occupied the same office demanding action for a housing crisis in Attawapiskat.
"These are not new issues for [Indigenous Affairs]," said Carrie Lester, a member of Six Nations of the Grand River and a special needs assistant for the Toronto District School Board. "They all seem to be sitting on their hands over it and they all don't take any action until a crisis develops."
Ms. Lester said First Nation children don't have access to the same basic necessities and opportunities other Canadian kids take for granted.
"It has to come to suicide because the kid feels like there's nothing for them in their lives," she said.
Demonstrators refused to leave the building when the office closed. At 6:30 p.m., a group was still in the lobby and a police officer was on site.