Columbus Day marked by Indians' suicide 'epidemic'

October 14, 2004

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Indians in North and South America are killing themselves in record numbers as the continent marks Columbus Day (12th October). In one small Indian community in Canada, four young people have hanged themselves in the past three months alone.

The former chief of the village, whose nephew hanged himself on the 30th September, has described the situation there as a suicide 'epidemic'.

The deaths are occurring in the Innu community of Natuashish in Labrador, eastern Canada. Other Innu communities in Labrador and Quebec suffer from the same appalling social problems, with epidemics of petrol-sniffing amongst the children, and alcoholism amongst the adults. All ages have been committing suicide in shocking numbers for many years, but this is now at an all-time high.

Five years ago Survival's report 'Canada's Tibet: the killing of the Innu' exposed the scale of the problem, and called on the Canadian government properly to recognize the Innu's rights over their land. But little has changed on the ground.

At the other end of the continent in Brazil, the Guarani Indians are living through a similar tragedy. There, over 300 Indians have killed themselves since 1986, including 26 children under the age of 14. The tribe has been robbed of almost all its land.

Stephen Corry, Survival's Director, said today, 'Responsibility for years of Innu suicides rests squarely with Canada's government. There is no doubt whatsoever that its denial of Innu rights is destroying the people. The Indians know this only too well. They also know that if white children were hanging themselves, rather than Indians, the government would act immediately. Canada's attitude remains deeply colonialist, even racist. The recent suicides sound an alarm that it's time for change, but Canada remains tragically deaf.'

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For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]