Suicides have become the leading cause of death for young teens growing up in the Wapekeka First Nation, a 400-resident indigenous district in northwestern Ontario, which is only accessible from the outside by plane.
Three 12-year-old girls from Wapekeka who recently carried out a group suicide pact are endemic of the mental health problems plaguing members of the 48 First Nation tribes in Canada, known as the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, or NAN.
Since 1986, 523 suicides have occurred among the communities, according to NAN, which noted that 10- to 14-year-olds are the most likely to succumb.
Feeling helpless to stop the suicides, which now ranks as the leading cause of death for indigenous youth and adults up to age 44 in Canada, local leaders turned to the Canadian government for suicide prevention and health funding months ago but were informed that it was “an awkward time for funding”.
While the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly, Wapekeka teens Jolynn Winters and Chantel Fox took their own lives months after NAN’s leaders asked for government aid.
“Those two suicides created a lot of turmoil in that community,” Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, told reporters in June.
“They experienced a number of attempts. Kids were flown out to various parts of the country for assessments and treatment to try to manage what they are experiencing. Then they lost a 12-year-old girl about a week and a half ago,” he explained.
After the deaths of her friends, Jenara Roundsky, the third 12-year-old, was flown out of the community and put on a suicide watch. Unfortunately, she later committed suicide outside of a hockey rink in June, according to her family.
A statement from her grandparents said that Roundsky suffered from Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They said, “We do not blame anyone for the loss of our granddaughter.”
A state of emergency was declared by local leaders on June 20, with the warning that 10 percent of their population is at risk to commit suicide.
“The community is in shock, but we’re trying to get ourselves going again by working together with the mental health team,” said Georgina Winters, the grandmother of one of the girls.
Wapekeka Chief Brennan Sainnawap sent a letter dated July 18, 2016, to Health Canada requesting help to prevent future suicides.
“We are in direct need of addressing some mental health needs and support,” the letter said. “We have had some dire experiences with youth suicides in the past and we are hoping to establish support systems in place to help out our young people in their mental health struggles.”
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