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Saturday, 23 June, 2001, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Native Canadians accuse government

By Mike Fox in Montreal

The chief of a small native Canadian community of 2,000 people has accused the federal government of failing in its responsibilities towards his people, thereby creating one of the world's highest suicide rates.

Chief Louis Quill of the remote Pikangikum nation in western Ontario was arguing against the government's decision to take over the running of local governments for native peoples in Canada.

To subject a nation of people to such conditions constitutes a crime against humanity

Doctor Michael Monture
Living conditions in Pikangikum have deteriorated to levels which would be unacceptable elsewhere in Canada.

Water is undrinkable, after the treatment plant broke down last October.

Many houses need major repairs, and the school shut a year ago because of a fuel spill.

Fresh food is scarce. Remoteness makes it pricey - milk is five times more expensive than elsewhere in the country.

Social crisis

These conditions are fuelling a social crisis.

Eleven children and young people have killed themselves in the past year - three in the last few weeks - giving the community one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Doctor Michael Monture, one of the country's handful of native Canadian doctors, visited the reserve and inadvertently helped highlight the village's plight when he got lost during a spiritual quest in the bush.

After he was found, Dr Monture condemned the government for failing to tackle the problems.

'Government to blame'

"The prime minister and the minister for Indian affairs are directly contributing to the suicide deaths in Pikangikum. The people of Pikangikum nation are being denied the basics of life.

"To subject a nation of people to such conditions constitutes a crime against humanity," he said.

The government has taken over the community's finances from the native council, but Doctor Monture says that, if the government had really wanted to help, it would have built new houses and helped fix the water system.

Under the Indian Act, the government supports native Canadians on their reserves.

But that has not stopped problems in this village, and several others, reaching crisis point.

Until proper solutions are found, many people here will feel that their country is somehow failing its first peoples.

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