Tag Archives: Northern Ontario

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.”


Cree Communities Launched And Funded Own Inquiry Into ‘Suicide Pandemic’

Since 2009, approximately 600 people have attempted to take their own lives in Mushkegowuk territory along the western coast of James Bay. (Treaty 9 Diaries)

Since 2009, approximately 600 people have attempted to take their own lives in Mushkegowuk territory along the western coast of James Bay. (Treaty 9 Diaries)

By Tim Fontaine, CBC News Posted: Mar 16, 2016

Faced with hundreds of suicide attempts, Mushkegowuk Council launched The Peoples Inquiry

They established their own inquiry to find out why hundreds were attempting to take their own lives, but a “suicide pandemic” continues to grip seven Cree communities in Northern Ontario.

Five people have taken their lives in the past three months.

“My future is dying right in front of me,” says Jonathan Solomon, Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, which first declared a state of emergency six years ago.

Just over 6,000 people live in the communities, which dot the western coast of James Bay. But between 2009 and 2011, there were over 600 suicide attempts, with many ending their lives.

In 2013, the Mushkegowuk Council established a People’s Inquiry to explore the roots of the suicide crisis and hear how community members wanted to address it.

That inquiry has released its final report and the Mushkoweguk Council wants action.

The People’s Inquiry

Without government funding, the Mushkegowuk raised their own money to select four commissioners, hold public hearings and hire Moose Cree First Nation member Nellie Trapper as the co-ordinator.

‘I saw my own family go through the grief, all the anger.’– Nellie Trapper, inquiry co-ordinator

“I actually have personal experience; I lost my son to suicide,” Trapper says. “Jan. 4, 2009. He had just turned 17.”

That loss drove her to be involved with the People’s Inquiry and also helped her relate to the over 230 people who shared their own stories during the public hearings, which took place in all seven of the Mushkegowuk communities.

“I saw my own family go through the grief, all the anger.”

Next steps

When the commissioners released their final report in January 2016, among other things, it pointed to the history of residential schools, the loss of language and culture, and substance abuse as factors leading to suicide. But it also included practical steps individuals, leaders, and communities could take to combat the problem.

Individuals were asked to seek counselling if they’ve suffered sexual abuse. They’re urged to learn the Cree language or to find ways to be self-sufficient when it comes to housing, like “living off the grid.”

Communities were encouraged to set up support networks for men, women, youth, and elders, introduce cultural activities and Cree immersion into schools and promote indigenous-based healing.

Leaders were asked to be more supportive of LGBT or two-spirited community members, find resources for counselling and allocate funding to cultural activities.

Trapper says her community, Moose Cree First Nation, has already begun to take the People’s Inquiry recommendations into consideration when crafting mental wellness policies. She hopes other Mushkegowuk communities will follow suit after an upcoming First Nation health summit taking place in Timmins at the end of March.

“The inquiry is done. Now is this going to just sit on the shelf and collect dust or are you going to implement?”

But Trapper also says those communities should get the financial resources from government to make that happen.

Ongoing emergency

While the inquiry has wrapped, the state of emergency still stands and was recently reissued after the deaths of five people in Mushkegowuk communities since Christmas.

“We’re beginning to see even older folks take their lives,” Solomon says. “That’s a very sad situation.”

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes those communities, raised the issue in the House of Commons on Feb. 25, calling on the federal government to meet with Mushkegowuk leaders and increase health funding to First Nations across Northern Ontario.

“What commitment will they make to close that gap in the coming budget and why will they not meet with the leadership now and commit to ending this discrimination once and for all?” said Angus.