Tag Archives: Grand Chief

Four More Indigenous Young People Take Own Lives in Northern Ontario, Sparking Calls for Actions

Eenchokay Birchstick School at Pikangikum First Nation.

18 suicides this year among members of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation

  • Staff | The Globe and Mail – Jul. 06, 2017

Indigenous leaders in Northern Ontario say community workers are exhausted and their children are dealing with tragedy upon tragedy after four more young people – three of them under the age of 16 – took their own lives in the past week.

The deaths bring the number of suicides this year among members of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a collection of 49 First Nations with a combined population of about 45,000, to 18 since the start of the year. Half of those who died were between the ages of 10 and 15, including three young girls who lived in the same small and remote community of Wapekeka.

“We’re overwhelmed, first of all, and the message that we keep hearing over and over again from our leadership and our front-line workers is that they’re exhausted and just trying to keep kids alive,” Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, shown in this 2016 photo.

“We’ve become experts in crisis management,” Mr. Fiddler said, “and what we’re looking for now from different governments, provincial and federal, is some long-term sustainable strategies moving forward because we need to move beyond the crisis state we’ve been in for so long now.”

The most recent string of deaths began with two children in Pikangikum over the weekend. One was a boy who was said to have been 10 or 12 years old. The other was a girl who was 12.

Then, on Tuesday, a 15 year-old-girl killed herself in the community of Summer Beaver.

And on Thursday, a 21-year-old man from the Fort Severn First Nation killed himself in Thunder Bay, where he had gone to obtain medical treatment.

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death of First Nations people under the age of 45 and the suicide rate for First Nations male youth is five times the national average.

Officials with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation say the numbers in their region are probably even higher than what has been reported because not all suicides are recorded as such or gain attention.

But the deaths in Wapekeka of 12-year-old Chantell Fox and her friend, Jolynn Winter, which occurred two days apart in January of this year, made national headlines, as did the suicide of 12-year-old Jenara Roundsky in June.

Leaders of that community say they told the federal government last summer that they were hearing about a suicide pact among their young people but a request for help garnered no immediate response from Ottawa.

Since the deaths in January, more federal assistance was provided. Health Canada says it is now paying more than $900,000 annually for mental-wellness programs in the fly-in village of 430 people. That includes $380,000 for four youth mental-health workers who were requested by the community.

But the people of Wapekeka remain anxious about the safety of their youth. On June 19, fearing further loss of life, Wapekeka declared a state of emergency. And the latest deaths are a reminder that children in other communities are also at risk.

“I understand that kids as young as 10, 11 and 12 in Wapekeka feel that they need to go out into the community, to patrol the community, with knives in their pockets so they can cut down a peer or friend who has tried to hang themselves,” Mr. Fiddler said. “That’s really sad. I can’t imagine a child that has to live like that.”


Mother Of Attacked Teen Speaks Out

Winnipeg Police taped off a section of Hargrave Street between St. Mary Avenue and Graham Avenue while they investigated the early morning assault April 1. (WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES )

Winnipeg Police taped off a section of Hargrave Street between St. Mary Avenue and Graham Avenue while they investigated the early morning assault April 1. (WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES )

Winnipeg Free Press

The mother of a teen girl who was assaulted downtown after leaving her CFS hotel placement made an impassioned plea for privacy just hours after the girl was taken off life-support.

The mother, who can’t be identified because her daughter, 15, is a ward of Child and Family Services, said she is upset with reports, including those circulating on social media, that she didn’t authorize and won’t confirm.

“It’s just waiting and that’s all I can say about my daughter,” the mother said outside a Winnipeg hospital late Wednesday night.

She said she’s also upset with Child and Family Services.

“They were asked for help. I’m definitely pissed off at them. I reached out, I had my mom, my daughter was in my mom’s care and we tried support workers, everything we could except for CFS, but it came down to the point where we needed to ask them for help and this is the help we got,” she said.

“I would strongly advise people not to ask CFS for help,” the mother said.

The teen was viciously assaulted April 1 and was found early that morning near the entrance to the Cityplace parkade on Hargrave Street. She was taken to hospital in critical condition, placed in an induced coma and has remained in the same condition for the past two weeks.

By turns distraught and almost angry, her mother began the roughly 20-minute interview by delivering a statement from handwritten notes and then she briefly answered some questions.

With the family’s pastor at her side, the mother said the only thing she can do now is wait to see what happens to her daughter now.

“She’s a very good kid and somebody seriously hurt her. I’ve been with her since Day One. It’s every mother’s worst nightmare,” the mother said.

She said her concern with publicity is to protect her two other children, both boys, who hear the reports about their sister.

“Right now I want respect, to have people not talking,” she said.

“It’s devastating. Every day is harder and I have other children and they hear this and it’s not fair,” she said.

She described her daughter as an athlete who plays basketball and volleyball and loves life.

“My daughter is a good kid, she’s a teenager, athletic, loves life, received plenty of awards, scholarships, played violin really well.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said the girl’s parents decided to take her off life-support Wednesday. The girl and her family are from a northern Manitoba community.

“They took her off life-support today,” the grand chief said. “We were with the family earlier and we’re just heading back to there, to the hospital, now,” he said earlier Wednesday.

A 15-year-old boy who knew the victim is charged with aggravated assault and aggravated sexual assault in connection with the attack.

Police were not available to comment on whether the criminal charges would be upgraded.

The boy was also under the care of Child and Family Services and was staying in the same hotel as the teen girl. He has been detained at the Manitoba Youth Centre.

The attack prompted the province to announce it will end the practice of using hotels as last resort for CFS wards June 1.

“We have a responsibility to protect children in our care and provide them with places of safety,” Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said following the assault.

“I’m saddened and outraged by this attack on a vulnerable child,” she said at the time, reading from a prepared statement.

“I’m deeply troubled that this would have happened to a child in the care of Child and Family Services.”

Irvin-Ross said the incident served as a catalyst for the government to move faster on its plan to phase out the use of hotels as shelters for at-risk children.

Late last year, Irvin-Ross said the province would phase out the use of hotels, but gave no deadline.

The plan included the creation of 71 emergency foster-home spaces and the hiring of 210 child-care workers over two years to reduce reliance on hotels as emergency shelters and use of private contractors to staff hotels and emergency shelters.

As part of the plan, Marymound in West Kildonan is building a residential unit for girls aged 12 to 17 in a house at the riverbank complex.

Regarding the province’s promise to end the practice of placing CFS wards in hotels, Family Services critic Ian Wishart responded earlier in April that this is not the first time the government has promised deadlines and not delivered.

“They’ve made commitments to this before and not followed up,” Wishart said at the time. “Because this particular (case) turned out so badly, (Irvin-Ross) is finally taking action. Does it always have to be a crisis before this minister takes action?”

Wishart said the province also has to put more focus on supporting children and their families in their own communities rather than remove kids from the home to be placed wherever space is available.

In January, 10,673 children were in care — a jump of more than 400 compared with the previous year. It’s the highest proportion of children apprehended in the country, with the vast majority of them being aboriginal.

Irvin-Ross said the department will conduct its own internal review of what happened as will the agency tasked with caring for the teenager. The Office of the Children’s Advocate will conduct its own review.

The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine last August first influenced the province to react, although Irvin-Ross said the province was beginning to address the issue of hotel placements prior to her death.

Tina was in foster care for less than two months when she ran away from her temporary placement in a Winnipeg hotel in August. She was being supervised by contract workers who had little or no training. Her body was found in the Red River nine days later.

No one has been charged in Tina’s death.

In response to the girl’s death, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak announced the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will hire its own family and child advocate.

The advocate will work exclusively with First Nations cases starting May 1, Nepinak said.