- CATHERINES – A small group of diverse students gathered within their campus grounds last week to shed light on the high suicide rates of Onkwehon:we youth.
The idea for the vigil and gathering on Mar. 24 came about due to the recent spotlight on Pimicikamak Cree Nation, where six people, one as young as 14, have taken their lives in the past three months.
Brock students belonging to the Decolonizing Indigenous Women through Education and Intro to Indigenous Studies courses began group discussions and planned an event within the school.
The community of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, with about 6,000 people, has faced the tragedy of dozens of suicide attempts in the last three months. More than 150 students are on a suicide watch list within a school of only 1,200 young people. In mid-March, Band leaders declared a state of emergency.
“Our young people need hope and inspiration. They don’t see that right now. We’ve got to make those key strategic interventions now. It’s a life and death situation,” said Pelly Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, recognizing that this issue is being faced across Turtle Island.
The statistics speak the same truth. In 2003, Health Canada published a report stating that suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to age 44. One of the Brock student organizers, Bella Jamieson, spoke about her inspiration for holding the space and vigil.
“All our relations extends to each and every species, each and every race, and all lives future or present,” she said. “The lives in all communities are important, and we as a people have the power to make a change for the better, and even faster when we work together. I’m left wondering what The Confederacy is planning on doing to help support our relatives in Manitoba.”
Health Canada also reported that First Nations youth commit suicide about six times more than non-Onkwehonwe youth and rates for Inuit youth are amoung the highest in the world at 11 times the national average. When reviewing a sample of 100,000 people it was found that 126 First Nations males commit suicide compared to 24 for non-Native males and 35 First Nations females compared to five non-Native females.
Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, representing roughly 30 Manitoba communities agreed, “We have to do more to invest in our young people in the North. Everyone has some connection to suicide, and they know the realities of how it affects people.”