Twelve-year-old Chantell Fox, left, of the Wapekeka #First Nation died by #suicide in January of 2017. She is pictured with her twin sister. Chantell took her life two days after the suicide of her friend, Jolynn Winter, also 12. (Photo supplied by the Fox family) In January, two 12-year-old girls died by suicide on the Wapekeka First Nation in Northern Ontario. At the time, #Indigenous leaders called for urgent action. That was six months ago.
This summer, four young people have taken their own lives in Pikangikum , another remote First Nation in Northern Ontario.
Pikangikum and Wapekeka are both part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) . So far this year, 20 members of NAN have died by suicide. That compares to 17 suicides in all of 2016. The youngest to take their life was 10 years old. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. In the background is AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. (Canadian Press) In June, Wapekeka declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing mental health crisis.
While the issues leading to the suicides are complex and varied, an Ontario coroner has linked the deaths of the two 12-year-olds in Wapekeka to a lack of government funding.
Cindy Blackstock has spent the past decade fighting for equal funding of services for children on reserves.
As she tells Day 6 guest-host Marcia Young , the stories of the young people dying on these reserves are heartbreaking, and preventable.
“Everywhere they go in their reality, they are getting the message in their lived experience that they’re not worth the money,” says Blackstock. “All they know is that life is really, really hard and [there] doesn’t seem to be much hope in changing things.” Pikangikum is a remote community located 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and is only accessible by air. (Canadian Press) Canada discriminates against children on reserves
Blackstock is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada . In 2007, together with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) , she took the federal government to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal . “Why don’t our kids get treated with the same equity and respect that every other kid gets? I don’t get it.” Blackstock and the AFN argued that the federal government discriminates against Indigenous children living on reserve by funding them less than children off reserve.
“Many people don’t understand that the federal government funds things like education, early childhood, health care, child welfare and basics like water on reserve, whereas the provinces fund it for everyone else,” explains Blackstock. Mikaia Pascal of Pikangikum posted this image to her Facebook page in 2013 with the message: ‘I miss my sisters sometimes I’m crying.’ Mikaia died by suicide on the Canada Day long weekend in 2017 at the age of 12. Her 16-year-old sister Hazel died by suicide two weeks later. (Facebook) Blackstock’s argument before that tribunal was that the federal government was underfunding services for children who live on reserve when compared to children who live off-reserve. Typically, children on reserve receive at least 20 per cent less funding than other children in Canada.
In January of 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government discriminates against Indigenous children , and ordered Ottawa to act on increasing funding and services for children on reserve.
“Why don’t our kids get treated with the same equity and respect that every other kid gets? I don’t get it,” says Blackstock.
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
In the background is AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. (Canadian Press)
The federal government spent more than $5 million fighting the case at the tribunal. Since the tribunal’s decision, Ottawa has spent more than $700,000 fighting the ruling.