Tag Archives: Suicides

‘We Are Dying’: Maskwacis Community Members Overwhelmed by Suicides

Community members held a vigil to celebrate life in the wake of a wave of recent suicides in Maskwacis, Alta. on Saturday.

Community looking for answers after 14 deaths by suicide in less than 2 months

Emily Soosay is grieving the loss of her 22-year-old son Luwen Soosay-Morin, who took his life two days before Christmas. Saturday she attended a vigil for a celebration of life following a wave of recent deaths by suicide in her home community of Maskwacis, Alta.

She doesn’t want anyone else to die, in what she calls an “epidemic.”

“I am broken, hurt. I’m lost. I’m crying out for guidance,” she said.

“Right now our nation is in a state of crisis. We’re in need of help bad. We are dying. […] The chief should call a state of emergency.”

She has lost several family members and friends to suicide over the years — Soosay’s cousin also took her life just two weeks after her son. She was too traumatized to attend her cousin’s funeral.

Emily Soosay participated in the Walk for Life vigil in Maskwacis on Saturday in memory of her son Luwen Soosay-Morin who took his life two days before Christmas.

Maskwacis Indian Health Services mental health worker Rick Lightning said there have been 14 deaths by suicide within the four nations that make up Maskwacis since December 2017. He also believes local leadership should call a state of emergency because help is desperately needed.

“It’s a cultural crisis and spirituality. There’s a spirit here. At night sometimes I can feel the heaviness creep over the land, the dark side running around knocking on the doors and the windows looking for its next victim.”

Lightning has witnessed the numbers of suicides rise while growing up in the community with a population of approximately 17,000, and has been personally affected by it.

His own daughter and granddaughter died by suicide three years ago. At that time suicide was also rampant in Maskwacis with an estimated 70 people taking their lives in less than six months.

“When I was a young kid my dad used to get up at sunrise. He’d sing and he’d pray. He’d say ‘I’m not alone. There’s many other old people out there that are doing the same as me. We keep the dark side out of here,'” said Lightning.

Maskwacis Indian Health Services counsellor Rick Lightening with his daughter Amber who took her life in March 2015.

“It starts with that protective circle,” he added, saying he believes a loss of spirituality among young people has contributed to the suicide epidemic.

There are seven mental health workers that serve Maskwacis from the Indian Health Services centre, but Lightning said they are overloaded. His cell phone rings off the hook, day and night from people reaching out for help.

“People are destitute here. The only people that were doing well are the funeral homes making the money off of us.”

He hopes Maskwacis can come together to create a 24-hour youth safe centre. A warm place where individuals can go to talk, share their experiences and be encouraged to not give up.

Soosay also wants to see an emergency youth centre built.

Samson Band member Mason Buffalo remembers loved ones he’s lost to suicide while attending the Walk for Life in Maskwacis on Saturday.

“Our children are crying for help. It’s violence, it’s poverty — we’re facing it all first hand,” she said.

“But not just up to chief and council. It’s up to us as parents, community members, grassroots people to keep our youth alive and well.”

Samson band member Janet Swampy is also familiar with the effects of suicide, having lost six family members. She thinks the healing and intervention needs to come from inside the community.

She says the current system of emergency support is a phone line that connects callers to outside sources who are unfamiliar with Indigenous culture.

“As an Aboriginal individual if I was contemplating suicide and they gave me a suicide hotline, with my experience in the world today being ostracized by the white community, do you honestly think I’m going to grab that phone and talk to someone on the other side that doesn’t understand my culture?” asked Janet.

“We need to take care of our own. Have someone on the other end of line that understands us, youth, our elders and the whole community.”

Samson band councillor Katherine Swampy agrees that the solution to the current epidemic is community.

‘I don’t want to give suicide any more power.’ – Emily Soosay

“When people have a connection to each other they are stronger, they feel loved, they have supports to go to when they need help,” said Katherine.

“I noticed how scared our people are when they need help. They don’t look at hospitals or health centres as a place to go for help if they feel suicidal or depressed; they are afraid they’ll be locked up, or if they have kids, they are afraid their children will be taken away by children services.”

Her sister attempted suicide on Jan. 8 and is in the process of healing, she said. Katherine too once found herself contemplating suicide after fighting hopelessness.

She doesn’t think calling a state of emergency is the answer. In the past the community has asked for outside help, but says it hardly made a difference.

“Off-reserve facilities seem to be failing our people. Maskwacis health centre has counselling, mental health services, and community wellness has programs provided,” she said.

In the meantime Soosay is focusing on raising awareness in memory of her son.

“I have to go on without my baby. I’m embracing life now — I don’t want to give suicide any more power.”

By Brandi Morin, CBC News Posted: Jan 14, 2018


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Sask. Indigenous Girls 26 Times More Likely To Die By Suicide: Report

There have been more than 500 First Nations suicides in Saskatchewan since 2005.

Grim numbers from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations are showing First Nations youth face a significantly higher risk of suicide than their non-Indigenous counterparts in Saskatchewan.

A discussion paper released by the FSIN on Friday used coroner office statistics to show there have been over 500 First Nations suicides in the province since 2005, a rate four times higher than in non-First Nation populations.

Over half of the suicides involved people under the age of 30.

Dr. Kim McKay-McNabb, a First Nations therapist, calls it “a mental health crisis.”

McKay-McNabb is one of two technical advisors assisting with the development of the FSIN’s Saskatchewan First Nations suicide prevention strategy, which will be released on May 18, 2018.

The release of her research comes almost one year after multiple suicides rocked the province’s northern communities.

She said there aren’t enough treatment centres for First Nations residents across the province.

“You can be on the reserve and want to access treatment options. As a First Nations person you are limited on where you can go for treatment,” she said.

The numbers released Friday also indicated First Nations girls aged 10 to 19 faced a suicide rate 26 times higher than non-First Nations girls in Saskatchewan.

Children waiting too long for mental health treatment

McKay-McNabb said children are waiting too long for mental supports.

“Someone on the reserve gets a referral for an ed-psych to find out if they have a learning difficulty. That child can wait up to two to four years before they actually get to see that psychologist,” she said.

FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear said the discussion paper highlighted the importance of the suicide prevention strategy.

She added it would be important for First Nations voices to lead the effort to find a solution for their communities.

“We can’t go wrong when we get our people involved and they know what their issues are, they know what their problems are,” she said.

“They do have the solutions on how to fix them.”

 HuffPost Canada


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.”


First Nations Activists from Winnipeg to Blockade TransCanada Highway on Friday

Blockade at Ontario and Manitoba border. Photo: Red Power Media

Red Power Media | June 29, 2017

For immediate release

On, June 30th, 2017, First Nations activists from Winnipeg will be shutting down a portion of the TransCanada Highway to protest the Canadian government and bring awareness to the youth suicide crisis in First Nations communities as well to the deaths of several indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Members of the American Indian Movement, Urban Warrior Alliance and Idle No More will be taking part in a pipe ceremony for youth, followed by a blockade of the highway.

Representatives from groups taking part are demanding the Liberal government increase the availability of mental health services on reserves and provide culturally appropriate resources for youth including in Manitoba. Inadequate health-care services, the loss of cultural identity and lack of proper housing are key factors contributing to the high rates of suicide and mental illness among indigenous peoples. Recently in Ontario, three 12 year old girls died by suicide at Wapekeka First Nation, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. The latest one happened June 13th when a pre-teen girl hung herself.

The deaths of several Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay have also raised concerns about racism against Indigenous people and inadequate police investigations. First Nations leaders have expressed their lack of faith in Thunder Bay police. The York Regional Police service have been requested to investigate the deaths of Josiah Begg, 14, and Tammy Keeash, 17, found dead in McIntyre River in May. Ten indigenous people have been found dead in Thunder Bay, since 2000. Seven were First Nations students who died between 2000 and 2011 while attending high school in the Thunder Bay, hundreds of kilometres away from their remote communities where access to education is limited. Organizers of Fridays protest would like to see improvement in First Nations education and increase in funding for schooling on reserves.

Activists are requesting the RCMP respect their right to protest. They plan to start their demonstration around 12 pm just east of Winnipeg near Deacon’s corner. A press conference will also take place at that time. Activists are planning to hand out information to motorists and collect signatures on a petition calling for immediate action from the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennet, as well as the Minister of Health Jane Philpott.

Wapekeka First Nation Declares State of Emergency in Wake of Suicides

Jolynn Winter, 12, left, and Chantel Fox, 12, centre, from the community if Wapapeka First Nation in Ontario, died by suicide in January. Jenera Roundsky, 12, (not pictured) died on June 13. (Supplied by the Winter and Fox families/CBC News)

Jenera Roundsky, 12, latest child to die by suicide in the remote northern First Nation

Staff | June 21, 2017

Wapekeka First Nation has declared a state of emergency after the third suicide of a child in the remote First Nation since January.

Chief Brennan Sainnawap issued the declaration after a meeting Tuesday night.

All of the girls who died were just 12 years old and part of a suicide pact that community leaders became aware of last summer.

That’s when community officials first asked for help but, according to a spokesperson, it has been slow to arrive.

Jenera Roundsky was the latest child to die. She was found by another child near the community’s outdoor rink last week. Jolynn Winter died on Jan. 8, while Chantel Fox died two days later.

Nearly 40 young people from the community are currently considered to be at risk of suicide; that represents about 10 per cent of the population of Wapekeka.

The state of emergency asks for an immediate response from Ontario and provision of the necessary services for the community.