Artificial Intelligence Pilot Project to look for Suicide Warning Signs across Canada

Pilot will examine all parts of country including Indigenous communities

An Ottawa-based firm has been tapped by the federal government for a three-month pilot project designed to look for warning signs for suicide before tragedy strikes.

Advanced Symbolics Inc., is an artificial intelligence service company set to examine suicide hot spots across the country to better understand precursors to suicide.

The pilot, expected to start by the beginning of February, will examine all parts of the country including Indigenous communities, said chief scientist Kenton White, though he stressed the goal is not to focus on any particular group.

“What we would like to try and understand is what are the signals … that would allow us to forecast where the next hot spots are so that we can help the government of Canada to provide the resources that are … going to be needed to help prevent suicide before the tragedies happen,” White said.

There were a number of high profile “hot spots” in 2017, White added, noting northern communities and places like Cape Breton were hit particularly hard by spikes in suicide.

Advanced Symbolics’ pilot will not identify individuals, White added, saying safeguards are in place to ensure individuals can’t be identified within samples.

“This is not Minority Report and we are not identifying individuals who … have risk of self harm,” he said.

“We are not knocking on doors or contacting individuals. We have nothing that is personally identifiable about any individuals in this study.”

Instead, the company turns to a technique to create randomized, controlled samples of social media users in all regions.

The project will only use anonymous data already in the public domain for surveillance purposes, according to the Public Works contract award document posted online.

White, also an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday his biggest hope is the research can demonstrate a positive application for artificial intelligence.

“So many times in AI research we hear the stories about AI is going to take jobs … Big Brother is spying on us,” he said.

“If you can show that (suicide) rates have gone down because we have deployed this sort of study, that would be most gratifying.”

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a Dalhousie University psychiatry professor who examined a spate of Cape Breton teen suicides in 2017, said this summer that authorities need to look beyond bullying in their response to tragedies, adding there is a tendency to assume it causes “every single problem” young people have and that it is “just not true.”

The Canadian Press



‘Do Something Now!’: Indigenous Activists Plead for Action in Youth Suicide Crisis

A group that has been camped out at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices for two weeks marched down Yonge St. Friday to demand government action on northern Ontario’s suicide crisis.

Staff | Toronto Star

Beneath Friday’s pouring rain and dark skies, a group of Indigenous women continue the fight against northern Ontario’s suicide crisis outside the offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on St. Clair Ave.

They’ve been at it for more than two weeks. Geoffey Daybutch, who was asked to join the women outside INAC three days earlier to serve as a male voice from the First Nations community, stands guard as a man brushes past him with groceries and tells him to get off the sidewalk.

For Daybutch, this crisis hits close to home.

“The stories that are coming out from the suicide crisis is that some of the older children from the families are making their choice to commit suicide so that the younger kids will have enough food to eat,” he says, struggling to get the words out.

Daybutch is in Toronto because he too made that choice.

“This is a personal thing that I haven’t told anybody here: that’s why I left my home,” he says, tears in his eyes and barely able to talk.

“When we had my youngest brother, I knew we were struggling so I told my family I’ll come down to the city, I’ll leave so that there’s enough food for everyone. I never came up with the choice to off myself. I made the choice to come down south and make a difference and here I am.”

On Friday night, a few dozen activists marched their cause up Yonge St. to the office of Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, in a vigil for the nearly 300 under-20 Indigenous youth who’ve taken their lives in Northern Ontario since 1986.

Once the march began, and two lanes of traffic were blocked, lineups of cars waited patiently while others blared their horns in anger as drum rolls sounded out and flags and signs were carried north on Yonge St.

This is the second time in a year the activists have come to INAC to demand the federal government follow through on an election promise made to address a state of emergency declared last April by the northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

The state of emergency came after 100 people, including children, tried to kill themselves in the community of only 2,000.

On July 24, Indigenous leaders met with the federal government in Ottawa. Another meeting was arranged for September.

Out of the July meeting came four already-promised mental health workers for the northern community of Wapekeka and 20 more for Pikangikum, which is now the suicide capital of the world after five youth suicides last month, according to the vigil’s organizers.

“They have reneged and they’re going to have a meeting in September when they’re finished their holidays and vacation time,” says organizer Sigrid Kneve, two days after someone woke her up in the middle of the night to inform her that another Indigenous youth had taken her life.

This year alone, there have been more than 20 suicides in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is located in northern Ontario and represents 49 First Nations communities.

“Since that meeting when they decided to have the meeting in September, another young person has killed themselves,” adds Kneve. “We want them to do something now! We don’t understand how it’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Outside their sidewalk tent, Toronto police frequently visit, stopping to check in and make sure they’re OK.

Bennett, too, often meets with them. But they say they are still awaiting action.

“How many young people are going to commit suicide from now until September?” asks Kneve.

For now, Daybutch waits on a sidewalk he has claimed as his own until his friends and family get the support he feels they deserve.

This story originally published Here.

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Ontario First Nation ‘In Shock’ After Two More Young People Take Their Own Lives

A picture taken in Pikangikum on March 30, 2016 shows several homes in the community of approximately 3,000 residents.

  • Staff | The Globe and Mail, July 18, 2017

Two young girls took their own lives in Pikangikum this weekend, bringing to four the number of adolescents who killed themselves on the remote Ontario fly-in reserve in the past two weeks – another spate of such deaths in a community that has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

The girls who died this past weekend were in their mid-teens.

Two weeks ago, a 12-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl died by suicide. One of the girls who died on the weekend was a sister of the girl who died by suicide earlier this month.

The 49 communities within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in Northwestern Ontario have grappled with the problem for decades. But halfway through this year, with the publicly known toll surpassing 20, there have already been more suicides in NAN territory than there were in any of the previous five years. More than half of the dead are between the ages of 10 and 15.

“We’re making every effort to prevent another life from being taken,” Dean Owen, the chief of Pikangikum, said on Monday as the First Nation of about 2,800 people waited for the girls’ bodies to be returned to their families following autopsies.

“The community is still very much in shock,” Mr. Owen said. But, he said, he and the other community leaders are at a loss for what they can do about the crisis.

As for the federal government, which funds First Nations’ health care, Mr. Owen said: “I would like to say, get a professional to come in and find out what’s going on in the minds of these young people.”

Pikangikum is no stranger to suicide epidemics. In 2000, after many deaths throughout the 1990s, one British sociologist said it likely had the highest suicide rate in the world. Between 2006 and 2008, 16 of its young people took their own lives. There was another string of deaths in 2011.

Suicide happens with alarming frequency through the reserves of Northwestern Ontario, but this year has been particularly difficult. The Wapekeka First Nation alone, with a population of about 400, has lost three 12-year-old girls. On Saturday, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation buried a youth who killed himself in Thunder Bay.

Anna Betty Achneepineskum, the deputy grand chief of NAN, said she has been trying to look at the lives of the young people who have killed themselves in her communities recently to determine if there are commonalities that can be addressed. “But we’re always responding to crises, and all of the resources that we have are all committed to that part of it, so we really don’t have the resources to develop some proactive and prevention measures,” Ms. Achneepineskum said.

When a child takes their life in a NAN First Nation, the community makes an effort to identify other children who are at risk and to take care of their immediate needs. That often means sending them to a city such as Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout or Ottawa for counselling. But that is a “very quick, Band-Aid solution” and there is little ability to do long-term followup because the resources are so stretched, Ms. Achneepineskum said. “We’re talking about youth here. We’re talking about youth that continue to die.”

Health Canada has sent additional supports to the affected communities and to the region at large, and is bolstering mental-health teams that serve NAN reserves. Jane Philpott, the federal Health Minister, said the suicides are an “unspeakable tragedy” and her department and others are working on the issue on an urgent daily basis.

“There is no question that this has to be addressed on a wide range of levels,” Dr. Philpott said. “We absolutely have to get to the root causes of why communities have lost hope and why there is this cycle of despair and continued [decisions by] people to act on their suicidal thoughts and not be able to see hope for their future.”

In fact, many of the root causes of the suicides are known, such as poverty, poor education, substance abuse and the loss of culture, something Dr. Philpott acknowledges.

“It is really a result of what we have tolerated as Canadians for generations now of discrimination, including things like, of course, residential schools, that have led to cycles of domestic violence that have taken root on some communities,” she said. “We need to acknowledge that we have done wrong by the First Peoples of Canada and we need to start to address that.”


Ottawa Must Act to Address Indigenous Suicide in Canada: Committee

MaryAnn Mihychuk, chair of the House of Commons standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs, speaks in Ottawa on Monday regarding the committee’s report on Indigenous suicide. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

  • Staff| The Globe and Mail, Jun. 19, 2017

A long history of misguided federal policies has fuelled repeated suicide crises in Canada’s Indigenous communities and urgent government action is needed to address the root causes, which include inadequate health care, housing, infrastructure and economic development, says a unanimous report by politicians of all stripes.

The Indigenous Affairs committee, which spent more than a year studying the problem of suicide among Canada’s first peoples and released its report on Monday, found that the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, forced relocations of communities and racism on the part of health-care workers, teachers and social-service agents all contributed to the problem.

The committee’s 28 broad-ranging recommendations include calls for the federal government to dramatically overhaul the delivery of child welfare, and to fully implement what is known as Jordan’s Principle, which says native children should receive the same quality of health care as is provided to other children in Canada.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found last year that the discriminatory policies of the Indigenous Affairs department have led to chronic underfunding of welfare on reserves and have allowed jurisdictional issues to interfere with the provision of adequate health services, including mental-health services.

“We need to send a message to Indigenous Canadians and especially to young Indigenous people that their lives have value, and to hold on to hope,” said committee chair MaryAnn Mihychuk, a Liberal MP and a former cabinet minister in the Trudeau government.

“We recognize,” Ms. Mihychuk said, “that they are losing hope because they have difficult lives and are suffering from intergenerational trauma as the result of decades of unjust policies, and that we must act together.”

A study released last year by the First Nations Information Governance Centre found that between 2008 and 2010, 22 per cent of adult First Nations people in Canada contemplated suicide. That compared with 9 per cent of the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for First Nations people under the age of 45. And the suicide rate for First Nations male youth is five times the national average.

Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who is a member of the committee, told reporters that the testimony given by the 100 witnesses was some of the most disturbing she has heard as an MP. “As a committee, we thought to do justice to all those very tragic stories,” she said. “I only wish that we had some quick easy fixes but, clearly, there aren’t quick easy fixes.”

Last week, 12-year-old Jenera Roundsky of the Wapekeka First Nation in northwestern Ontario texted “goodbye” to a friend then took her own life at the community’s outdoor hockey rink. She had been in the care of social services since two other girls from the same community killed themselves in January. Her father died by suicide in 2011.

The wide scope of the committee’s recommendations reflects the complexity of mental-health issues and the fact that there is no single solution to the high rate of suicide in Indigenous communities, Ms. Mihychuk said.

Among other things, the report calls for more investment in housing, better access to education including the establishment of a university in the North, more employment opportunities, enhanced suicide strategies and improved mental-health services in Indigenous communities. In most cases, it recommends that government provides funding to allow the Indigenous communities to meet their own needs and find their own solutions.

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society who launched the CHRT case against the government, said the tribunal noted in January that First Nations youth in Ontario are denied mental-health services that are provided to all other children.

“In worldwide research, we know that inequity is linked to a much higher risk for suicide in two ways,” Dr. Blackstock said. “One is that it creates a lot of hardship for youth so they are more likely to have suicidal ideation and die of suicide. And the second thing is that, for those kids who are feeling suicidal ideation, there’s inequitable services to meet that need.”


6th Girl Has Taken Her Own Life In Northern Saskatchewan In Less Than A Month

Stanley Mission, Sask. is one of a few communities mourning the loss of children who have recently taken their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Stanley Mission, Sask. is one of a few communities mourning the loss of children who have recently taken their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

‘They’re Not Just Statistics. Our Little Girls Are Dying’: FSIN Vice-Chief

By Devin Heroux, CBC News Posted: Oct 31, 2016

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations continues to face “a state of crisis” after a sixth girl became the most recent suicide in northern Saskatchewan in less than a month.

“This is heartbreaking and shocking,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan. “Our youth ought to be planning their future and celebrating their successes; instead, there’s despair and hoplessness.”

On Sunday, a 13-year-old girl from La Ronge, Sask., took her own life.

Earlier in October, three girls aged 12 to 14 from Stanley Mission, Sask., and La Ronge also killed themselves in the span of four days.

A week later, a 10-year-old girl in Deschambault Lake, Sask., took her own life.

Then last Friday, a 13-year-old girl killed herself on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“They’re not just statistics,” said Jonathan. “Our little girls are dying. It isn’t about this being No. 6.”

Jonathan said she had been talking to a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across the country Monday. Many expressed shock and sadness over this spate of suicides, she said.

FSIN vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan and her daughter. Jonathan says as a mother of three girls she's horrified at what's taking place in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kimberly Jonathan)

FSIN vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan and her daughter. Jonathan says as a mother of three girls she’s horrified at what’s taking place in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kimberly Jonathan)

The heartache, though, is mixed with frustration.

“It’s more than the pit-of-my-stomach anger,” she said. “The pit-of-my-soul pain. As a life-giver of three Indigenous girls, I just cannot fathom having to write another proposal for help.”

Jonathan said she doesn’t know what more to do at this point. She said she’s tired of Indigenous people being treated like beggars, having to plead their case for help in the midst of a crisis. She’s once again calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit northern Saskatchewan and provide the necessary support.

“Condolences: Thank you for them,” said Jonathan. “We need action. We need to see resources that our leadership have been asking for years.”

More than anything, Jonathan is stressing the importance of this being a provincial and national issue. She is calling on people everywhere to be a part of action that makes elected officials step up.

“We don’t want photo [opportunities], we don’t want pretty speeches,” she said. “Pretty speeches are not going to save our children.”

Education director responds

Northern Lights School Division education director Ken Ladouceur said teachers and students in these affected communities are being given all the support they need right now.

“Words escape you,” he said. “Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families and Indigenous people everywhere.”

This school division is not new to tragedy. Most recently, Ladouceur helped guide staff and students through the school shooting in La Loche.

Now, Ladouceur is trying to be a leader in the face of yet another tragedy.

People came together in La Ronge, Sask. for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

People came together in La Ronge, Sask. for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

“We are no stranger to suicide within our schools and across our Indigenous populations in the north,” he said. “It is something we are always aware of and trying to support as much as we can.”

Ladouceur knows more work can be done, though.

“Prevention programs are in all of our schools,” he said. “The age of these students tells us we can’t put enough interventions and support in for these youth.”

Staff and administration are working with local health districts to provide all the help they can. Ladouceur said he knows how difficult this is on the teachers right now. “The students are as close to them as their own family.”

Leaders speak out

“Research and experience shows that the connection between youth suicide and the autonomy of Indigenous communities, working on reconciliation and empowering those communities is a large part of that solution,” said Buckley Belanger, MLA for Athabasca.

Belanger also took issue with comments made earlier in the year by health minister Jim Reiter — when he was the minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs — and said the government would look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action that made sense and could be done quickly.

Belanger mentioned the years of work which went into research, interviews and consultations before the final report was released.

“They were not done so provincial ministers could decide what made sense to them,” Belanger said. “If this government really isn’t willing to listen, if they aren’t willing to work with the Indigenous communities, if they are only going to do what is quick and easy for them, then how does this government expect anything to change?”

NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon said the supports offered to northern communities after the first three youths took their own lives haven’t been enough. He mentioned long-standing inequities and inadequacies in the north.

“We’ve got a sixth suicide,” he said. “What we’re doing just isn’t working. The supports just haven’t been there.”

Wotherspoon said long-term commitments need to be made to address issues such as addictions and housing.

“We’ve got a real shortfall to make up for in the long-term.”

He said it takes resources to bolster basic things such as evening programs, and to continue to working with northern leadership, providing the sources to help healing.

“This is unspeakably tragic,” said Premier Brad Wall.

Wall said suicide prevention strategies have been developing in collaboration with school divisions and health regions.

“Obviously we need to continue to do more,” he said.

Wall said the government is looking at all options to address the issue, noting the pattern of all six lives lost being young girls.

“Everything’s on the table. It’s an all-of-the-above approach we need to take for this because we just can’t afford to lose any young girls, or any young people period,” he said.

MP Georgina Jolibois called on the federal government to address the immediate needs of Indigenous mental health in northern communities.

“The government needs to end the Band-Aid strategy and commit to a culturally appropriate long-term approach to mental wellness,” Jolibois said during Monday’s question period in the House of Commons. “How much louder do our kids need to be?”

Youth From Opaskwayak Cree Nation Shine Light On Suicide Epidemic In New Documentary

Still from the documentary The Secrets of the Bignell Bridge, which looks at the suicide epidemic impacting youth in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Man. (Courtesy of Nu-Media)

Still from the documentary The Secrets of the Bignell Bridge, which looks at the suicide epidemic impacting youth in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Man. (Courtesy of Nu-Media)

The youth ‘wanted to speak their truth,’ says Nu-Media president Jordan Molaro

CBC News | August 12, 2016

A new documentary created by youth from Opaskwayak Cree Nation is shining a light on the suicide epidemic in their home community.

The documentary was created in collaboration with Nu-Media, a production company from Winnipeg that tours First Nations to introduce Indigenous youth to film production.

“When we walk into a community, we don’t have any idea what we’re going to film, because we’re just the conduits. We just have the tools, we know how to use them,” said Jordan Molaro, president from Nu-Media.

The Secrets Behind The Bignell Bridge from Nu-Media onVimeo.

Molaro thought that when they went to OCN, the youth would want to make a lighthearted film – maybe a zombie or vampire story – but was surprised to find out they wanted to make a documentary about suicide.

“They wanted to speak their truth, they said that they were hurting themselves and that they were dying,” said Molaro.

Molaro says the youth were very courageous to make a film about such a dark topic, and they bring a unique perspective on the issue that Canadians haven’t yet seen.

“I think a lot of Canadians really don’t understand what is happening in our communities, and when we see stories that are shared, even on the CBC, we aren’t seeing it from the perspective of the youth,” said Molaro.

“We’ve never asked the youth what they truly want to do, we’ve never really asked them what they actually need, and they’re saying what we need to do is to just talk – because that doesn’t cost a thing.”

Molaro says that over the last year, there has been about 40 suicides in Opaskwayak Cree Nation. And since releasing the film this week, one more youth has ended their life.

Film premiere at Edmonton festival 

This fall the film will have its official Canadian premiere at Dreamspeakers Film Festival in Edmonton.

In October, Nu-Media will be holding a three-month Indigenous film internship in Winnipeg. The program is open to Indigenous youth ages 18-35 years, who are currently unemployed and living on reserve. The program is accepting 15 applicants, and Molaro plans to accept at least five youth from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

‘Traditionally, In Indigenous Cultures, Suicide Never Existed’

In talks about the assisted dying law, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says Canada must "protect vulnerable persons who are disproportionately at risk of inducement of suicide." (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In talks about the assisted dying law, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says Canada must “protect vulnerable persons who are disproportionately at risk of inducement of suicide.” (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous parliamentarians brought unique perspective to assisted dying debate

Despite the clamour from doctors, lawyers, religious groups and advocates for the disabled, the softer voices of Indigenous parliamentarians were instrumental in shaping the Trudeau government’s cautious approach to medical assistance in dying.

Indigenous MPs and senators played a central role in securing passage of the new assisted dying law, bringing to the debate what they describe as a unique perspective on the sanctity of life.

Their prominent role started at the top, with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations and lead minister on the assisted death file.

She was backstopped in the Senate by former judge Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission inquiry into residential schools and was instrumental in persuading skeptical senators that the controversial new law was constitutional.

The first government backbencher to intervene on the issue in the ruling party’s caucus was Robert-Falcon Ouellette, one of nine Indigenous Liberal MPs and, in the end, one of just a handful of Liberals to vote against the new law.

Theirs were voices Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have been loath to ignore in any event, having repeatedly asserted that “no relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

Sinclair & Oullette

Justice Murray Sinclair and Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Oullette are two Indigenous leaders who are cautious about what the new assisted dying law might mean for Indigenous people.

But their message was amplified by the fact that the assisted dying debate played out against the backdrop of a youth suicide crisis in Attiwapiskat and other First Nations communities.

Wilson-Raybould herself never directly linked the two. But she did repeatedly talk in general terms about the need to “prevent the normalization of suicide, protect vulnerable persons who are disproportionately at risk of inducement to suicide.”

The law grants only those who are near death the right to medical assistance to end their lives.

In defending it before the Senate, Wilson-Raybould warned that expanding the eligibility criteria to include anyone who is suffering intolerably would “send the wrong message that society feels it is appropriate to address suffering in life by choosing death.”

“This message may encourage some who are in crisis and already considering suicide to act.”

Sinclair has no doubt that the Aboriginal youth suicide crisis was in Wilson-Raybould’s mind.

“The important thing is that there’s no doubt that she has been influenced by her own teachings and her own cultural experiences in terms of how she approached it, as was I,” Sinclair said in an interview.

“As more and more young Indigenous people seek out their culture and seek to understand how their culture can be relevant and valid for them today, it’s important to make connections to the current situation of things and show how our culture can help us through these things.”

‘Traditionally, in Indigenous cultures, suicide never existed.’- Robert-Falcon Oullette, Liberal MP

Caution rooted in culture 

Ouellette said he believes “Indigenous people did have major influence” on the government’s approach to the issue. Although he voted against the law, he’s gratified that his views were reflected in the cautious approach taken by the government.

“Traditionally, in Indigenous cultures, suicide never existed,” he said in an interview.

“If you live in nature and all of sudden you’re going around killing yourselves, committing suicide, your people won’t survive. You have to carry on, you have to move on, no matter all the bad things that happen in life.”

Sinclair echoes that view.

“From the Indigenous perspective, ending one’s own life was not encouraged. In fact, it was discouraged, and there are teachings in my community, Ojibwa teachings, around whether or not you will be able to travel to the spirit world in the proper way or a ceremony could be done for you if you make the decision to end your life without good reason.”

In the midst of debate in the Senate, some Indigenous parliamentarians met with young people from Attiwapiskat. That prompted a number of senators — Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike — to question what message legalization of assisted dying was sending to those youths.

“It will not take much for a young, vulnerable person to believe that their situation is intolerable to them and, therefore, we need to ensure the message we send to the Canadian public with this legislation is that this is not a right that should be easily exercised or that we are embracing,” Sinclair told the Senate.

Not all Indigenous parliamentarians shared that view, however.

Senator Lillian Dyck argued the Aboriginal youth suicide epidemic is the result of dysfunctional communities still grappling with the after-effects of the residential school era, totally separate from the issue of allowing grievously ill people to end their lives with a doctor’s help.

Moreover, she said, repeatedly referring to Indigenous youth as vulnerable “is a big mistake.”

“It is a mistake because you are telling them, ‘You’re vulnerable, you’re weak, we’re afraid for you.’ I think that’s an awful message to give to youth,” Dyck, who voted for more expansive eligibility to assisted dying, told the Senate.

Thunder Bay MP Don Rusnak, chair of the Liberals’ newly formed Indigenous caucus, said Aboriginal communities in his riding also bristled when links were drawn between assisted dying and the youth suicide crisis. Indeed, he says for the most part, his constituents objected that the law didn’t go far enough.

“There is not a pan-Aboriginal or Indigenous voice,” Rusnak said. “You can’t think of it as one homogeneous group. There’s different perspectives from different areas of the country, different languages, different cultural practices.”

Indeed, Rusnak said the reason for creating the Indigenous caucus is to share those different perspectives and ensure that ministers take them into account when crafting public policy.

“We need to listen to the voices that for far too long in this country haven’t been heard,” he said.

On assisted dying at least, Sinclair believes that’s already happened.

“What I heard from some of my colleagues and others is that they saw it. They saw the connection, and they saw how it fit into Indigenous teachings and how Indigenous teachings … could be applicable to this kind of situation.”

More importantly for Indigenous peoples, Sinclair said: “It validated the fact that our teachings are important and real, and so it moves the whole conversation of reconciliation forward a great deal.”

The Canadian Press, Posted July 4, 2016


‘Another Reason To Live:’ Attawapiskat Teen Struggles For Meaning In Life

Rebecca Hookimaw, 17, poses for a photograph in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Hookimaw began drinking and taking pills and tried to commit suicide before and after the suicide of her sister Sheridan Hookimaw who was 13-years-old. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Rebecca Hookimaw, poses for a photograph in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Thursday, April 21, 2016.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Canadian Press | April 24, 2016

ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. – Thirteen-year-old Sheridan Hookimaw killed herself on the banks of the river that flows through Attawapiskat, ultimately sparking a crisis that has now drawn international attention to her isolated First Nations community.

The sickly girl, who had to be flown out weekly for medical appointments, recorded video messages to her family saying she wanted to end her pain, and telling them not to blame themselves.

Since then, as many as 100 others in Attawapiskat — a community of 2,100 people — have apparently tried to kill themselves, sparking panic among the First Nation’s leaders, who recently declared a state of emergency in a desperate cry for help.

Among them is the big sister Sheridan left behind.

“Every morning when I wake up, when I don’t see my sister there or when I don’t hear her voice, I feel so lonely without her,” Rebecca Hookimaw, 16, says at the home they shared.

“I just tell myself: ‘She’s out of town, she’s at her appointment.’ I still don’t want to believe she’s gone.”

Beyond the grievous personal loss, Hookimaw’s acquaintance with desolation runs deep. Her eyes speak of things no teenager should have to know about.

She grew up with her grandparents rather than with her mom and dad, she says. Her father disappeared from her life, leaving a void, although she vacillates between whether or not it still bothers her.

Her background has also helped her understand why her peers — most from damaged families living in over-crowded, frequently substandard houses in which drug and alcohol addictions wreak havoc — might want to kill themselves.

“I’ve been through that, too,” she says, waving her long black hair from her face. “I started drinking and doing drugs because I couldn’t handle the pain anymore.”

There was also bullying: people called her fat and ugly, she says. Adding to her woes, her four-year-old cousin was killed by a truck a few years ago as she rode her bike on a rutted street — there are no sidewalks and few safe places for kids to play in Attawapiskat.

By last fall, when her sister sought out the means with which to end her life, Hookimaw had already tried suicide several times.

“I never made it through, but my sister did,” she says. “I got mad about it and sad about it, but I’m starting to think that God or whatever didn’t want her to be in pain or suffer anymore, and he gave me another reason to live, I guess.”

Sheridan’s death initially pushed Rebecca to further alcohol abuse — the community is officially dry although liquor can be obtained — but the tragedy also prompted the young woman to try to turn her life around.

Now, she says, she’s trying to support other teens who may be teetering on the edge. She wants them to know that suicide is not the answer.

“I tell people things I can’t even tell myself,” Hookimaw says. “If you ever think about taking your life away, don’t do it. Suicide ends your pain but it will go on to somebody else, and it’s just going to keep on going.”

A few nights ago, yet another teen in Attawapiskat was airlifted for treatment after cutting at her neck. A day earlier, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett had flown in to talk to the chief about the deep-rooted crisis.

Bennett also got an earful from young residents about their wants and needs. Hookimaw delivered an emotional, unscripted speech that came from her heart.

She says she wanted to make it clear that First Nations people are tired of being third-class citizens in their own land.

“People are treating us like we’re nothing. We’re not different from everybody. We’re all human,” she says. “If we were like white or whatever, they’d help us out right away, but we’re native.”

Bennett has gone. The glare of the media is fading, leaving the still-forlorn young woman trying to move beyond the suicide crisis that is weighing on both her and other First Nations communities across Canada.

“I hope everything changes in Attawapiskat one day, because I have little brothers and I don’t want them growing up the way I grew up.”

Suicide Among Canada’s First Nations: Key Numbers

image (1), Published, April 11, 2016

Nearly one quarter of First Nations adults reported contemplating suicide at some point in their life, according to a 2008-10 survey by the First Nations Information Governance Centre.

These figures stand in contrast to the just 9.1 per cent of adults from the general Canadian population who had similar thoughts.

But these aren’t the only telling statistics about suicide among Canada’s First Nations people.

In light of the rash of attempts that prompted a state of emergency in the remote northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat, here’s an in-depth look at the rates of suicides among the country’s Indigenous people.

According to a 2000 report from the Canadian Institute of Health, suicides among First Nations youth (aged 15 to 24) was about five to six times higher than non-aboriginal youth in Canada.

In particular, among young First Nations males there was a rate of 126 per 100,000 people. That stands in contrast to the rate of 24 per 100,000 among non-aboriginal males.

First nations suicides

The elevated rates are also seen among females: young First Nations females died by suicide to the tune of 35 per 100,000 people, while non-aboriginal females had a rate of just five per 100,000.

First Nations people are also more likely to contemplate suicide.

Statistics Canada data from 2012 shows that 21.4 per cent of First Nations men and 25.8 per cent of women living off reserves have suicidal thoughts. Meanwhile, 11.1 per cent of non-aboriginal men and 13.8 per cent of women had similar ideas.

First nations suicides

First Nations people are also more likely to report moderate or high levels of psychological distress, according the First Nations Regional Health Survey from 2008 to 20010. In their findings, 33.5 per cent of the general population reported these issues, in comparison to 50.7 per cent of First Nations adults.

CTV News has also compiled a list of resources that are available for First Nations people dealing with mental health issues.

Who can help?

National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program

The federal government program helps fund First Nations and Inuit-run initiatives to help communities deal with addiction issues. A list of local treatment centres can be found here.

Brighter Futures

The community-based program provides a wide range of mental health initiatives, including: information sessions on issues such as depression, family violence and stress management; counselling services; and wellness and recreational activities.

Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program

The government program offers mental health and emotional support to all former residential school students. Psychologists and socials workers are available for individual and family counselling. While local Aboriginal organizations offer cultural and emotional support. The program can also be contacted on its 24-hour national crisis line at 1-8666-925-4419.

Resources and literature

The Canadian Mental Health Association

The National Aboriginal Health Organization

Stop Family Violence

Centre for Suicide Prevention

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

The website also includes a list of 24-hour crisis lines found across the country that can be found here.

Acting on what we know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations

CTV has also compiled a list of mental health resources that are available across Canada here.

First Nations Losing ‘Babies’ To Suicide, Chief Says After 10-Year-Old Dies

wayne moonias

‘Our community is in a state of crisis,’ says Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias. (CBC)

CBC News, Posted: Jan 20, 2016

Suicide rate for children under 15 in some Ontario First Nations more than 50 times the national average

First Nations in northern Ontario are calling for emergency relief after several young people, including a 10-year-old girl, died by suicide in recent weeks.

The Northwest Local Health Integration Network report from 2010 showed the suicide rate for some First Nations in the area is 50 times the Canadian average for children under 15 years old.

A meeting of chiefs from the 49 First Nations that make up the Nishnawbe Aski Nation began this week in Thunder Bay, Ont., with prayers for the families of five youth who have died by suicide since December.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler leads the grand entry for a meeting of 49 chiefs from northern Ontario in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler leads the grand entry for a meeting of 49 chiefs from northern Ontario in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week. (Jody Porter/CBC)

“Many of these are young girls and our babies,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, noting that two 10-year-olds have died by suicide in less than two years.

“I can’t even imagine what those families and those communities are going through,” he said. “To bury a 10-year-old child that died by suicide is something I can’t even begin to comprehend.”

Another recent suicide took place in Neskantaga First Nation, one of the Nishnwabe Aski Nation communities, where a 14-year-old girl died on Jan. 9.

“You don’t expect a 14-year-old to be lost in that way,” said Chief Wayne Moonias. “Nobody expected it and it has been difficult. The community had to pull together.”

In the past 10 years, Neskantaga First Nation has lost 13 people to suicide, and few people remain untouched by grief. The girl who died recently is the child of Moonias’s cousin and close to his own children, he said.

“Our community is in a state of crisis,” Moonias said. “This brings back a lot of flashbacks for our people … including staff.”

Moonias and other chiefs are calling for emergency response to suicides similar to the way governments respond to other disasters such as floods or forest fires.

Chiefs say outside resources, such as mental health workers and crisis co-ordinators, are needed, along with the money to pay them.

Without that help, First Nations can’t recover from one suicide before another occurs, Fiddler said.

“That 10-year-girl who committed suicide in Bearskin Lake, she has siblings. I want to make sure that those siblings get the help that they need so they don’t [get into] a high-risk situation themselves,” he said.