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Suicides feared if line lost
By Canadian Press, Winnipeg Sun, 17 March 2000

There hasn't been a suicide on the Cross Lake First Nation since before Christmas and residents credit a crisis line that could soon shut down without federal aid.

"I don't understand it," said anthropologist Ronald Niezen, who has been living in the community for more than a year doing research for a book.

"In some cases ... the response has been contemptuous."

Federal officials have accused the First Nation of "creating an industry" with their crisis line and its paid workers, Niezen said.

He has even laid the case before the World Health Organization as an example of how developed countries can fail to help their indigenous people.

Seven suicides in just five months last year have left the community of 4,500 so desperate you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, he said.

CRIES UNHEARD

Residents were in Winnipeg yesterday, seeking more than $500,000 in assistance. But they said their cries went unheard as federal bureaucrats continued to insist the crisis line be staffed by volunteers and not paid staff.

"We're not getting anywhere," said Bob Brightnose, who lost a brother to suicide about 14 years ago.

Federal officials could not be reached for comment.

In the mid 1980s, Cross Lake was also hit by a rash of suicides. There were 20 deaths in just eight months in 1986-87.

"It's basically the same generation involved now as then, they've just gotten older," said Niezen.

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