Hockey deaths overshadow First Nations’ tragedy


This week, Canada’s national media has been awash with news about the death of another professional hockey player – the third in 4 months.

Like the others, Wade Belak was an ‘enforcer’, a player put on a team’s roster to physically intimidate opponents and protect his more skilled teammates, often by dropping his gloves and fighting other teams’ enforcers.

Belak killed himself, and his death signals an urgent need to assess the support that is being offered to these players, both during and after their careers.

Five other deaths, including one this week, have received much less attention.

In less than two months, 4 teenage girls and a 26-year-old man have killed themselves in the Pikangikum First Nations reserve in northwestern Ontario, according to an official there.

Pikangikum, an isolated northern community 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, is no stranger to suicide. In 2000, 8 young girls living in the community took their own lives. A 2004 article in the Canadian Journal of Native Studies said Pikangikum had a suicide rate of 470 deaths per 100,000, which is one of the highest in the world, and 36 times the national average, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

“We have no running water. We have no sewer system. We have 2,400 people living in 400 homes,” a Pikangikum official told the Citizen. “And the government is nowhere to be seen.

“Most of the youth don’t have any privacy, even in their own homes. Most of them have to share rooms,” added the official.

Whatever the reasons for this long-running tragedy – and they are bound to be many and complex – it certainly merits the sort of attention that the media has been focusing on the hockey deaths this week.

Read a report released by Ontario’s Chief Coroner on Friday

Listen to CBC radio’s interview with Ontario’s Chief Coroner.

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One thought on “Hockey deaths overshadow First Nations’ tragedy

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