Aboriginal Youth Suicide Awareness

The other day I got a call from my friend Hal Eagletail. Earlier this winter Hal invited me over one frosty morning around 5 a.m. to take part in a sweat. Talk about a bracer. It’s like a big sauna in a teepee - and it was thirty below outside. Not surprisingly I found the whole experience rather uplifting and I felt an awareness and appreciation for the traditions of the native community.

When he called the other day Hal wanted me to take part in an Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Walk on the TsuT’ina Reserve. I felt a personal need to be there, having lost a brother-in-law who was half native to suicide a decade ago.

The Youth Suicide Prevention Walk is a group of First Nation’s youth walkers and their support staff and volunteers who last year walked from Nanaimo, B.C. to Ottawa, Ontario. Their objective was to raise awareness on the tragic problem of youth suicide on reserves and in native communities across Canada. This year’s goal is to exceed last year’s walk that carried the message to seventy three reserves across Canada.

On some reserves there has been a 400% increase in the suicide rate between 1986 and 1995.

On Friday I found myself at the administration building on the TsuT’ina Reserve signing autographs for about 100 bright eyed smiling native kids who seemed to get the message that their future can be anything they want it to be. Native youths who survived suicide attempts report that they did it because they felt they had no future. A teenage boy told me that the real problem is directly related to alcohol abuse. So it seems to me it’s not only a case of suicide awareness but increased awareness and funding for alcohol educat ion, intervention and rehab programs.

Native roll models like Hitmen hockey player Brent Dodginghorse and NHLer Jordan Tootoo have done a lot to inspire hope, especially in Nunavet, where native suicide rates are seven times the national average. In my travels all over the world people always remark to me that they respect the way Canadians face our problems head on and we have a distinctly Canadian way of finding straight forward practical solutions. Why then, might I ask, do most of us seem to have our heads buried in the sand when it comes to this problem of epidemic proportions?

Elders on the reserve say. “Silence is deadly when we pretend the problem is not there, communication is a healer to break the silence.” For more information go to www.theyouthsuicidepreventionwalk.com