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Addressing depression and suicide among aboriginal Ontario youth Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Pauline, Canada May 9, 2010
Health , Indigenous Peoples , Mental Health   Opinions


What do you think the leading cause of death is in Northwestern Ontario? Vehicle-related accidents? Cancer? Gang Violence? The reality is that suicide, a preventable but deadly community issue, takes the most lives. Due to isolation, there is a lack of trained mental health workers. Other factors include lack of inclusion, lack of confidence, lack of discussions about the topic, and lack of strength to overcome the dangers among youth.

The Aboriginal rate of suicide is 5 times that of the non-Aboriginal rate. The Ontario Aboriginal suicide rate was named one of the highest in the world in 2000, when Pikanjikum had 8 girls commit suicide (some as young as 13) and 27 suicides in the Treaty 9 communities. ‘City Natives’ face issues such as gangs, prostitution, poverty, lack of education and substance abuse. A strong activist on Aboriginal issues and Executive Director of the Multicultural Association of Northwestern Ontario stated that “Poverty, homelessness, addictions, a lack of education, and unemployment make many Aboriginal youths moving to the city vulnerable.”

More recently, the students from the reserves who attend Dennis Franklin Cromarty in Thunder Bay face an increased risk of suicide. There have been six deaths among school students since the school opened in 2000. Without proper welcoming among city citizens, students feel discriminated against and face homelessness, loneliness and poverty, making it difficult to concentrate in school. These young people have so many stories that we are going to hear in the years to come, much like we are now talking about residential schools. It is truly culture shock when youth leave a small fly-in community that is often less populated than the school they attend in the city, forcing many to constantly think about suicide. These are signs of struggles that need to be addressed.

Cultural and spiritual teachings were found to be most helpful for suicide prevention options in the Suicide Prevention Coalition’s “Youth Voice” report. The report came out in April 2010, after consultations with secondary students in city high schools. “Be proud of who you are,” exclaimed an Aboriginal youth on a Thunder Bay Television news segment upon the report’s release. Making more activities available for the youth was also an important recommendation of the report. Another change that needs to take place is the increase in access to professional support and resources, including online, print and telephone support and resources.

Another suggestion among Dennis Franklin Cromarty students was to have a school resource centre and student residence where students could talk to a counsellor, a supervisor or trained peer-helpers. The recent drowning of Reggie Bushie raised many concerns which led to broadcasts such as the one on The Agenda with Steve Paiken. Soon after, the death of a student named Kyle Morriseau raised concern among many adults in the community. Students suggest that First Native community Bands could select peer responders from each community to watch over other students and report to the school liaison on what is happening with students at school. Potential problems can be reported before things get worse.

Seeking Bimaadiziiwin, a film of Thunderstone productions, is one account of what it is like to have depression in a Northern community. These types of youth social empowerment through film are fundamental to the involvement of the community as a whole. Visit the First Nation Initiative site to learn more.

Another potential help would be broadband internet access for the North, which is discussed more and more in political circles. Youth outreach workers, protection services and respite were recommended in a youth consultation with the Child & Youth Advocate office at the Multicultural Youth Centre. The idea of meeting the youth where they are could mean sharing traditions, providing support or contributing money. But that alone will not solve the problem. We would benefit from dealing with the issue and realizing there is a lot more everyone could be doing.

Moffat Makuto states that Aboriginal youth need the following things: “A warm reception to help them stay in school, and a caring attitude can give them hope for a better life. This can be the catalyst to deal with the pain of abuse and neglect, break the cycle of addictions, and avoid negative lifestyles to cope with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.”



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Writer Profile

Beginning my social activist life at an early age, I got involved in the Regional Multicultural Youth Council in Thunder Bay. Since then, I have represented the youth centre at conferences across Canada, served as youth council president for two years, designed a girl's collective, served as fundraising officer and marketing assistant, and started Health Engaging Youth. I am currently a Youth Support Worker at the drop-in centre.

I have my Recreation and Leisure and Social Service Worker diplomas from Confederation College. During my exchange to Japan, I learned invaluable problem solving skills and cultural sensitivity. I am interested in women's issues, food security, water preservation, prevention of violence against women, environmental activism and children's rights.

I plan to be a Social Worker in the future, so I attend Lakehead University after receiving the SSW diploma. Bringing together my experience with youth-run organizations and the skills developed working at in informal and formal youth engagement; I hope to be involved in mental health, addictions, and youth engagement. I have been part of The New Mentality, Town Youth Participation Strategies, and Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

I am currently working for Wesway as a Respite Worker and Mobilizing Minds as the Young Adult Team Leader.

R Kahendi | Jun 19th, 2010
Great piece. Looking forward to reading more from you!

Great article.
Gaelin Brown | Jun 25th, 2010
I think the merging of Rogers and Tbaytel, and the 3G network (high speed internet on your cell phone) that is coming, will certainly help alot of the fly-in communities in Northern Ontario get connected. Hopefully it is sooner than later.

casie | Jul 4th, 2010
this is awesome, it has a lot of great facts...that really need to be adressed!

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