To combat growing concerns over youth suicide and substance abuse, Attawapiskat is getting a youth treatment centre that it’s wanted for years.

“The community wanted our own treatment centre,” said Greg Shisheesh, Deputy Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation. “In the past the youth were sent outside the community for treatment, which wasn’t successful.”

The centre came about after two years of work by Attawapiskat and public hearings on the increase of youth suicides in many northern communities. The $ 1.8-million centre is one of two announced by the government for northern Ontario.

Shisheesh said the centre will offer programs with a more traditional style of living that the youths are accustomed to.

“When the youth were sent out, there was no improvement, they experienced culture shock and language barriers.” Shisheesh said there were no support programs available once the youths returned to the community. Most times they fell back into substance abuse.

The centre will be set up in the wilderness some 25 miles away from Attawapiskat.

“The area is a good hunting ground with fishing. They’ll be involved in traditional activity where Elders can be involved in teaching them about nature and the past,” said Shisheesh. Elders and local people will be hired in providing counselling.

The treatment centre will be named after 13-year-old Jules Mattinas who died after sniffing gasoline. The centre will provide a healing treatment program named after Tony Fireman, a second chronic gas sniffer who committed suicide with a shotgun in 1993.

Shisheesh added that the treatment centre will offer other programs that will help families of troubled youths and provide support programs for the youths’ re-entry into the community.

“The programs will provide a new life, homes, and the client and counsellors will be from the same community.” Shisheesh said gas sniffing and substance abuse are “increasing problems” in the community. Volunteers and Peacekeepers have been active in patrolling the community to stop gas sniffing among the youth.

“It increases in the summer months and wc have to be watchful,” Shisheesh said.

He is hopeful the treatment centre will help combat the growing problem.

The centre will be built within a year and will service the 48 communities of NAN. It has room for up to 24 clients, plus eight staff members and Elders.