CBC News Posted: Mar 04, 2016
Most recent victim will be buried Sunday on what would’ve been her 15th birthday
Young people on the Pimicikamak Cree Nation are crying out for help after four teenagers killed themselves in less than three months.
“There’s so much of it happening,” said Amber Muskego, 17, who was close friends with some of the young people who have died since just before Christmas.
“I want everybody to help us try to fight this. We need a youth crisis centre.”
Muskego and other sources tell CBC News the youngest victim was a girl who will be buried this Sunday – on what would have been her 15th birthday. The oldest was 18.
Two others have reportedly been sent to Winnipeg for help after they attempted take their lives.
‘I want everybody to help us try to fight this. We need a youth crisis centre.’– Amber Muskego, Pimicikamak Cree Nation
The community held a suicide prevention walk Thursday to draw attention to the crisis – and try to find healing.
“We met in the middle of our town,” Muskego said.
“Everywhere, Christians were walking with the students, kids, everyone that wanted to go. They were pouring holy water on the ground, trying to bless the ground so no more suicides happen and our town gets out of grief.”
Part of the problem, Muskego said, is that there is very little for young people to do. In the summer, they play baseball. In the winter, there’s only hockey.
“Our town is invaded with drugs and alcohol. People get money, welfare, child tax. Some people don’t even give kids their family allowance. They just go drink it up, slots, drugs, whatever they can get,” she said.
“That’s what’s taking over our town. Our young people are running to drugs and alcohol.”
An estimated 8,000 people live on the First Nation, which has an 80 per cent unemployment rate.
The father of a 15-year-old girl who died Jan. 20 agrees that the lack of opportunity is creating a feeling of hopelessness for young people in the community.
He and his daughter cannot be identified because she was in the care of Child and Family Services when she died.
“People are getting angry at what’s going on. Finger-pointing, what is the root cause of this suicide in Cross Lake. Lack of recreational facilities for example, youth hang-outs, cultural centre, lack of opportunities in Cross Lake,” he said.
The man says he doesn’t even know yet how his daughter died – and those questions are haunting him.
“I keep hearing conflicting stories. One says she hung herself. The other says she overdosed. That’s why I’m waiting for the autopsy report. It is so hard. Ever since I lost my daughter, life is turned upside for me and for my family,” he said.
“A few factors come into play, like bullying. My daughter was in the foster home. She would’ve come home on Feb. 1 back to my care. I told her that, she was looking forward to coming home and then something happened.”
There is a concern that more young people will be lost, so mental health workers are in the schools, working with students considered high-risk, said Cynthia Robinson, of Cross Lake Health Services.
She said there’s a need for even more mental health professionals in the community approximately 700 km north of Winnipeg.
“Most of the workers feel overwhelmed, they’re always worried about the young people and we are trying our best to help them, encouraging them to call somebody, not to keep quiet about how they’re feeling,” she said.
Robinson was one of the people who organized the suicide prevention walk. It was meant both to support the grieving families and to reach out to anyone struggling and considering suicide.
“It was very emotional and everybody tried to comfort them and talking to them, encouraging them, showing their support. It’s all we can really do at this moment. There’s no words to say, to comfort a family that’s very heartbroken right now,” she said.
“It was an overwhelming feeling, like you can feel the love that everybody came together to make it work.”