Here’s some excellent perspective on the suicide problem among young First People in Canada as shared with me yesterday by Doug Cuthand (below), a Saskatchewan Cree who’s an award-winnng documentary filmmaker, freelance writer and weekly columnist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
As you’ll note, this is an outrageous situation that has persisted for years. And as with the similar problem in the western U.S., this should be a source of national shame. We North Americans criticize China and other countries who violate human rights. We like to view ourselves as champions of decency and justice. But how hollow and hypocritical that rings when free nations blessed with immense resources ignore or stand by and allow conditions to exist that drain all hope and self-respect from some of the descendants of those who were crushed under the wheels of Manifest Destiny.
Granted, many were not crushed forever. Some, like Cherokee Nation, have proven to be strong, wise and prosperous. But those who comprise the weakest continue to live in torment. Where are our helping hands for them? Where is our compassion for them? Jesus said our treatment of the least among us is our treatment of him. That certainly would include these young First People who have chosen suicide instead of the torment they've been left to endure. There’s nothing we can do even though the U.S. and Canadian governments sport huge bureaucracies and budgets to manage First People? Even though our countries' private sectors bulge with wealth and resources?
This problem goes on and on. And it's no secret by any means. The Candadian Broadcasting Corporation and other news outlets have reported about the situation for years. Check examples of CBC reports here, here and here. And see a brief Canadian Mental Health Association snapshot from its Centre for Suicide Prevention here. Why does such a horror continue? I'll be putting that question to officials and experts in the future.
Here’s what Doug Cuthand had to say in his email, and I thank him for taking time out of his demanding schedule to share these thoughts:
"Suicide is a serious issue in Canada, particularly the north. Small, isolated northern communities lack support services for our young people. Drug and alcohol abuse coupled with a sense of isolation and hopelessness is a breeding ground for the despair that leads to suicide.
"This past week there have been a series of stories about La Loche in the CBC. La Loche is a small community in northwest Saskatchewan. This troubled community has a history of social problems and youth suicide.
"The history of the community is not unlike many northern communities that have been relocated and taken away from their history. If you look on Google Earth, you will see that the village is located on the eastern shore of a lake. At one time, the people lived at the western end at a village called Portage La Loche. It was located at the end of a 35km-long portage that entered the Athabasca River. It was an historic trade route and the people made a living with teams of horses freighting across the portage.
"In the 1940s, following (WWII), the freighting industry dried up, and the government moved the people to the eastern shore where they could administer them. This was a common occurrence in northern communities. Trade routes and tradelines were forgotten, and the people were clustered into manageable artificial communities.
"I am telling you this story to illustrate how our people lost control over their lives, which subsequently led to the social upheaval and resulting problems.
"I have written about suicide and related issues for close to 20 years as a columnist. Before that I was the editor of an Indian monthly magazine. Today my writing is all freelance, and I spend most of my time as a documentary filmmaker. I don't know what effect I have on public policy except that since I began writing my column I have received at least one nasty letter from every Minister of Indian Affairs and various other politicians, which I wear as a badge of honour."
Right now, on some rez out west and in Canada, there are young people who are either contemplating suicide or they're about to try to commit suicide. Statistically, they may be insignificant, but as living gifts from the Creator, they are our fellow treasures and our little brothers and sisters. They need our help and for us to care. One thing we can do is to call this outrage to elected officials' attention and demand action to solve the problem to the extent possible, whatever that is (and we don't know because we're nowhere close to giving the problem the attention is cries out for). You're at a computer, so you're wired for action. Email your elected representatives about this. Won't cost you one cent, but your voice would be a priceless call to action.
I hope you'll call this blog to others' attention. I don't say that to build readership. I make no money from this blog that was given to me free in Typepad's journalist bailout program for those of us who lost our jobs to downsizing but who wanted to continue our work as journalists. I'm blessed with this blog for good reason, and I can't think of a better use than trying to call attention to the suicide epidemic among young Native Americans and First People.