Dozens of suicide attempts by indigenous youth: what the f!*? is going on in ‘sunny ways’ Canada?

Walking near Attawapiskat high school

People walk near the high school in Attawapiskat. (c) CBC.ca

The Canada brand has been trending everywhere since the election of a Liberal government led by photogenic Justin Trudeau on Oct 19, 2015. This resurgence has featured Trudeau’s ‘bromance’ with US President Barack Obama and the prime minister’s declaration to the Paris climate summit in November that, “Canada is back” to assume its historical role as a nation that punches above its weight in engaging in global issues.

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Healing in Pikangikum stumbles

PikangikumCanadaMap

(c) epodunk.com

I last wrote about Pikangikum in December 2014. Since then I’ve collected information from three government offices about what they are doing to combat the extraordinarily high level of suicide among young people in this indigenous community in northern Ontario. Continue reading

This is Canada too

WaterAdvisoriesFNCanada_CBC151015Regularly these days a global report is released revealing that one or more Canadian cities has made the world’s list of Top 10 places to live. I admit that I can’t help feeling just a twinge of pride when I hear the latest news.

Then I give my head a shake, because, for instance: Continue reading

Pikangikum: What does it take to heal a community?

Coroners_report_title_pageEarlier this year I wrote to the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario asking about any follow-up to a 2011 report on a shocking series of youth suicides in the northern First Nation community of Pikangikum.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Office had followed up, and some weeks later received from them a copy of that document. My surprise turned to shock: according to the fact-based table that I received, only 1 of the report’s 100 recommendations had been implemented as made.

That’s when my journalist’s instincts kicked in and I began looking for a way to write a post around a headline that would go something like:

Only 1 of 100 recommendations in Coroner’s suicide report followed. Continue reading

Should Canadians treat First Nations like charities?

ski-doo_blog_140213A teenage girl working as a page in Ontario’s legislature hears then lieutenant-governor, James Bartleman, talk about how, growing up as an aboriginal person in a small community in northern Ontario, books were his ‘ticket out of poverty’.

Bartleman went on to describe how the shortage of books contributed to lower education outcomes in many Ontario First Nations, and how the situation endures today. Determined to do something, the girl and her sister begin collecting books to send to remote northern First Nations. To date, their organisation, Books with no Bounds, has delivered more than 15,000 books to such Ontario communities, and earlier this month the sisters, Emma and Julia Mogus of Oakville, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal from Mr. Bartleman.

Good for them. I sincerely mean that. They are doing something, they are acting on their beliefs.

But … Continue reading

World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve written previously about suicide in an aboriginal community in Canada, but of course suicide is not limited to aboriginal people. Here’s a sensitive yet powerful article in today’s Montreal Gazette:

I was just a kid when my best friend’s dad took his own life, upstairs, alone in his bed. I barely knew him. Yet, his death profoundly affected my life. Thirty years on, the family can talk about it, but not publicly in a way that would identify them. It’s still too hard. So we’ll call my friend Tom.

Read the full article.

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.