Tag Archives: Youth Suicides

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.”


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.”


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?”


Northern Sask. Communities In Shock After 3 Girls Take Own Lives

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson says the entire community is on edge. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson says the entire community is on edge. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

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More than 20 young people considered high risk

CBC News: Oct 14, 2016

The northern Saskatchewan communities of La Ronge and Stanley Mission are in shock after three young girls took their own lives within four days.

The girls were 12 to 14 years old.

“Everyone is on edge right now,” said Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief, Tammy Cook-Searson. “It’s a lot of pain to take when you lose a child and a family member.”

Two of the girls were from Stanley Mission. The other girl was from La Ronge. There have been two funerals this week. The final funeral is on Saturday afternoon.

“Right now, we’re still grieving, but at the same time we know we have to set up the support systems,” said Cook-Searson.

Cook-Searson said she’s been in contact with the families of the girls. She said despite their grief, the families have come together to start a difficult conversation about how to stop this from happening to another young person in the community.

“They are devastated by their deaths, but they also have ideas for us too,” said Cook-Searson “They’ve been very supportive of each other.”

The community of Stanley Mission is reeling after three young girls died earlier this month. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

The community of Stanley Mission is reeling after three young girls died earlier this month. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

Cook-Searson has also been talking to a number of young people in the community.

“They’re hurting. They miss their friends. They haven’t said too much to me. We’re just trying to get a sense of what’s going on. They’ve lost their friends.”

Communities come together

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, the community of Stanley Mission opened up its Band Office and Youth Centre for 24 hours a day. Both facilities continue to be open around the clock.

Local officials also had a community gathering at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Stanley Mission last Friday night. Cook-Searson said it was an important step in stopping more young people from taking their own lives.

“When we started on Friday night, we had one youth that came there and told us about three more youth that were talking about suicide,” said Cook-Searson.


Chief Tammy Cook-Searson responds to youth suicides on the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

“And right away, we followed up and said you know you save lives by telling us this.”

The following day there was a community meeting and debriefing session for anyone who wanted to attend. One-on-one sessions with counsellors and therapists were also offered.

“We just want to be here to support the families that are grieving and the same time setting up supports for the families and children who are grieving not just for now but into the future,” said Cook-Searson.

More than 20 young people high risk

The focus for the community now is ensuring that another young life isn’t lost. Cook-Searson said the communities have identified more than 20 young people who are considered high risk to take their own lives.

“We have to have faith, and we have to have hope. And just have to encourage our kids to have that hope and to hang on,” said Cook-Searson.

Some of youth have been taken to Prince Albert and Saskatoon to be assessed by adolescent psychiatrists. Others have been sent home with a safety plan after being assessed by a health professional in the communities. And some are gathering at homes in La Ronge and Stanley Mission.

“The parents are taking turns looking after kids right now,” said Cook-Searson. “The kids are sleeping over with their friends. They’re talking to each other.”

Inside the classrooms in both of the communities teachers are now receiving suicide prevention training. It’s also available to any of the parents in each community.

“The young people are grieving the loss of their friends. Their classmates,” said Cook-Searson.

Counsellors and therapists have also made themselves available 24 hours a day and have posted their cell phone numbers on social media sites for the young people.

The community of Stanley Mission is mourning the loss of two girls who took their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

The community of Stanley Mission is mourning the loss of two girls who took their own lives. (Devin Heroux/CBC News)

Federal and provincial support

Health Canada has now stepped in and is helping to bring psychologists and counsellors from Saskatoon. This will continue until at least December. The provincial government is helping to co-ordinate emergency response efforts including bringing in therapists from neighbouring health regions.

Five counsellors from the Prince Albert Grand Council are on the ground helping as well. The Jeannie Bird Clinic in La Ronge is also providing support.

“I know there’s a lot of people who want to help us from the outside communities and we want them to know we welcome and appreciate that help,” said Cook-Searson.

Cook-Searson also said that a number of months ago the First Nation presented a plan to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That plan included a $17-million mental health facility for the communities.

Cook-Searson said Trudeau didn’t originally say no but needed to see a business plan. The community has now put aside $2 million of its own money and will be presenting the plan next month.

Cook-Searson said this tragedy places more importance on needing this facility.

The five-year average suicide rate for youth 19 and under within the Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority between 2010 to 2015 is 32.18 per 100,000 population, according to eHealth Saskatchewan.

Keeping faith in face of tragedy

Cook-Searson said families continue to be on edge right now as parents hope and pray that young people taking their own lives stops. She said they have a simple message for the young people in Stanley Mission and La Ronge.

“We want to tell the youth they are loved and they’re cared for and encouraging them to reach out to each other.”

Cook-Searson said she’s inspired and proud of the way the local leaders and residents have come together to support each other. And she feels that the key to healing and moving forward is going to have to come from within the community, today and into the future.

“I know that it’s hard for all of us but we are very strong people,” she said. “We have strong resilient people and we’ll continue to stick together and work together and be here for our youth.



Restoring Indigenous Languages Key To Preventing Youth Suicides: Trudeau

FILE: Students in Grade 1 to 5 learned about Cree, Dakota, Michif and Nakaw languages

Students in Grade 1 to 5 learned about Cree, Dakota, Michif and Nakaw languages

The Canadian Press, Jun. 3, 2016

WINNIPEG, MB, Man. – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says restoring indigenous languages is key to preventing youth suicides in First Nation communities but stopped short of promising to recognize them as official languages.

Trudeau told a virtual town hall with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Winnipeg that languages are at the core of indigenous culture and identity. Communities that do a better job of teaching their own language and culture see “massive decreases in suicide rates,” Trudeau said.

“This is something that we know is essential,” he said Friday. “As an indicator of pride and identity, belonging and culture, indigenous languages are essential.”

Trudeau pointed to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools — released a year ago — which found preventing children from learning their own language was a powerful tool for assimilation.

“We need to counter that by celebrating languages,” Trudeau said.

He wouldn’t say whether the federal government will recognize indigenous tongues alongside French and English as Canada’s official languages but said he looks forward to discussing the idea with chiefs.

A rash of suicides, with some victims as young as 13, has prompted several First Nations to declare states of emergency in the past few months.

Liberal MLA Judy Klassen, who represents a northern Manitoba riding, told the legislature Thursday that she and others from her home community of St. Theresa Point First Nation carry around box-cutters because “you never know when you will come across a child hanging from a tree.”

“This is our nightmarish reality,” she said.

Canada has failed for centuries to live up to the treaties signed with indigenous people, Trudeau said following a speech to the country’s municipal leaders. The Liberals have put over $8 billion on the table over five years to improve the standard of living for indigenous people but change will not happen overnight, Trudeau said.

“It’s not a problem that’s going to be fixed quickly.”

But some say elevating indigenous languages to official status would be a huge step forward.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said suicides crises have become all too common in some communities.

“Things stabilize but … it never really fully goes away,” said North Wilson, head of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

Part of the despair felt by many stems from past racist policies which sought to make people ashamed of their culture and language, she said. Officially recognizing indigenous languages would give First Nations their “rightful place” in this country, she said.

It’s ridiculous to fly into a remote northern reserve in Manitoba and hear the flight attendant give a safety message in English before putting on a French recording, North Wilson said.

“They should be broadcasting them in Cree because we want the elders to understand,” she said. “That’s not honouring them as people.”