As I was saying, I want to express my condolences to the families and let it be known that, like it is for you, these are the people who are on our minds as we have this conversation. We've all been heartbroken, I think, by the tragedies that we've heard about across the country in so many communities.
I see the high rates of suicide in indigenous communities affecting youth in particular, I think, but it's not entirely the youth who are affected. It's a public health crisis and, therefore, a very important part of my mandate. I join you in the search for an appropriate response, knowing that no single person has all of the answers and that we must work together on something like this.
A number of issues of social inequity form the basis of the challenges I face in my portfolio in Health, but I think that when we look at social inequity in health and in mental health, the stark realities are nowhere more obvious than in the inequities that exist between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
When we look at the matter of suicide in first nations youth, I don't think I need to remind the members here of, for example, the rates of suicide among first nations young people, whether on-reserve or off-reserve, and among their non-first nations counterparts. I brought with me a lot of statistics, but I think you've probably heard a lot of them before. I think that statistics sometimes confuse us and sometimes even take us away from the fact that every single statistic represents a person, a person who is a loved one, a family member, and a community member.
Really, I wanted to focus on the fact that these disparities, the gaps in health outcomes, and the tragic statistics we read about have their roots in long-standing social inequity, and we can point to the causes. I'm not sure if we can say that we can find all of the causes, but I'm sure you've heard what many of them are. Some of them are historical. Many are ongoing. The roots of this crisis lie in colonialism, racism, assimilation, residential schools, intergenerational trauma, poverty, and so many other issues. The ongoing causes behind a crisis include things such as the bullying that exists among young people, issues of low self-esteem, overcrowded housing, unemployment, and lack of recreational activities. These are some of the reasons, which I'm sure you've heard about at this committee, as to why young people turn to self-harm and sometimes suicide.
The traumatic impact of losing cultural practices, losing the roots of communities, and losing languages, and the disruption of family structures and of social support networks, all affect the health and well-being of those communities, and we find that one of the most serious results is the high rate of suicide.
I know that you've heard many moving stories. I've heard many of them myself. I think about this summer, when I spent time in Alberta visiting Treaty 6, 7, and 8, and in one of those communities, I met a bright young man. He was talking about his battle with addiction and the fact that earlier in his life he had attempted suicide nine times. He became addicted to fentanyl. Getting treatment was very difficult for this young man, but eventually, with the assistance of a clinic that was supported by his band, he got the treatment he needed. He's now on Suboxone therapy and is slowly decreasing his dosage of Suboxone. He's on a path to healing. He said to me that he was becoming a better father and a better person, that he wants people to know that there's a way out, and that he wants them to know they can overcome this.
I am convinced that governments have an essential role in the strategies that we need to collectively gather to give hope and to give life to the ambitions of a young man like him. Change is only going to happen, though, when we work in partnership. Of course, that partnership has to include indigenous leaders. It has to include every level of government and, of course, many sectors of society far beyond the health sector.
My mandate includes making sure that I work with indigenous leaders. That includes the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde. It includes the president of the ITK, Natan Obed. It includes working with chiefs and councils. Of course, I need to work with my provincial and territorial counterparts and multiple stakeholders to address health gaps that exist between indigenous peoples and other Canadians.
I believe that at its root this requires us to renew relationships in Canada and to ensure that relationships with indigenous peoples are based on a recognition of rights and on respect and co-operation. The healing process that I suspect you are finding your way toward as you have these conversations involves implementing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
What can government do? Much of what we are already doing is itself centred on righting some of those past wrongs and on addressing the long-standing challenges that have left this legacy of despair amongst young people. For example, we are supporting an annual assessment and support for the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy. This is a strategy that helps to reduce risk factors through a focus on prevention, outreach, education, and crisis response.
We also have worked to support the national native alcohol and drug abuse program, another community-based program that includes residential in-patient treatment facilities.
We're supporting mental health counselling services through the non-insured health benefits program, through multi-disciplinary mental wellness teams that are driven and designed by communities. We're supporting the Indian residential schools resolution health support program, which has been successful in providing support through some of the residential schools discussions. It helps both former students and their families.
We're investing in research into mental health promotion and suicide prevention. Some of that is done through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It includes things such as the pathways to health equity for aboriginal peoples initiative and the Arctic Council initiative.
But we need to have new federal measures as well. As I have learned more about the challenges communities face, I've been deeply troubled by them. Communities face challenges in securing some of their basic necessities such as housing, water, and access to good education. Thus, as with all other parts of health, mental health needs go far beyond the provision of health care. It involves looking at both the causes and the consequences, which have deep roots and devastating effects on families and communities.
All levels of government, and, I believe, all departments of government, have a responsibility to look at the social determinants of health.
Have I already reached the yellow card? My gosh.