OTTAWA - About 200 people gathered on Parliament Hill on Thursday to mark World Suicide Prevention Day and call attention particularly to suicide among natives.
A half-dozen Inuit groups organized the vigil, which included an appearance by singer Susan Aglukark.
It's the third straight year that Inuit have staged a Parliament Hill gathering to highlight the terrible suicide problem in the North.
Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said suicide rates among her people are 11 times higher than the national figure and that 83 per cent of those who kill themselves are under age 30.
She said Canada needs a national suicide prevention policy and urged the government to pay for an Inuit action plan on mental wellness.
"The National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy may end at the end of March in 2010," she said. "We don't want this to happen when Inuit suicide rates are like this.
"I call on leaders to ensure our programs are not terminated and for Inuit programs to be enhanced."
She said people must reconnect with their culture and families and the stigma which surrounds mental illnesses must end.
"People don't talk about them for fear of being ridiculed," she said. "When I'm out there today on the lawn of Parliament Hill, I want to shatter the stigma on mental illness and make sure everybody knows it's OK to talk about it, to get help, and to embrace life."
In 2003, the World Health Organization designated Sept. 10 as suicide prevention day in an effort to focus attention on the problem.