“It happened during the holidays, just a few days before Christmas.” Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario is recounting a recent tragedy, a type of story he’s had far too much experience retelling.
“The current system, as it is now, it’s not working. It’s unable to meet the needs of our families and communities,” he says in a voice flecked with anger and sadness. “We have 10-year-old kids taking their lives. Something is terribly wrong.”
Bearskin Lake is a remote Oji-Cree First Nations community of 472 on-reserve residents, more than 2,000 kilometres northwest of Toronto. It is an alcohol-free community of three settlements, accessible only by air, except for a few months when the winter road crosses Windigo Lake north through to Muskrat Dam.
It was here where a 10-year-old girl killed herself during the holidays, the youngest in a cluster of five youth suicides in the territory since December.
“She has siblings. She has classmates,” says Fiddler. “We wanted to make sure there were [mental health] supports in place for all the kids coming back to school and for the most part, I think we did.”
After the Christmas break, crisis counsellors were sent to provide mental health support for the families and 100 or so students.
“The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has been in contact with the Chief and Band Council and has been in touch with the community to arrange for additional services and supports,” says Aly Vitunski, a provincial spokesman. “Our thoughts are with the families of Bearskin Lake First Nation during this difficult time… as we share the concerns of Indigenous leaders about the high rate of suicide among Indigenous youth.”
While appreciative for the assistance, Fiddler says they were “trying to put out these fires” until their resources were required elsewhere.
“Different agencies try to do different things to support the community but what the community is asking for is a longer-term presence,” he says.
“There has to be comprehensive [strategy] in place, especially when you have a suicide victim that young. They’re still children, and the impact that it has on the other kids, that is something that the community is dealing with right now.”
Right now, but also again.
“There’s another 10-year-old that took his life last year in May or June, early summer, in one of the other communities near Bearskin Lake.”
For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/02/17/canada-child-suicide-mental-health_n_9246806.html