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Jack Frimeth paddled down the Nahanni River to raise money for suicide prevention in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. The community suffered four suicides in early 2017. (Submitted by Jack Frimeth) A Fergus, Ont. teacher has paddled more than 500 kilometres solo on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories to raise funds for a First Nation in the midst of a suicide crisis.

Jack Frimeth, 64, who teaches math to grade 9 to 12 students at Centre Wellington District High School, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo he returned home from a three-week canoe trip on Wednesday after spending 16 days on the river. The trip was intended to raise awareness about suicide prevention and the importance of mental health.

Before he started the trip, Frimeth donated $670 he had raised to the Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

“It’s been a really positive experience,” he told CBC. Change of plan

Initially, Frimeth said he had planned to raise money for a diabetes educational program at the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority, which serves about 3,400 people in the N.W.T.’s Dehcho Region.

In 2011 he co-founded PADDLE — Paddle Against Diabetes, Display Love for Earth — to hold fundraising events for diabetes, a serious health problem in Indigenous populations. Frimeth pictured here in Labrador. He says about raising funds for suicide awareness: ‘You want to help and you feel that there are things you can do. ‘ (Submitted by Jack Frimeth) But three weeks before he headed North, he read an online article about the suicide crisis facing Fort Simpson, a community of 1,200 people, which had lost four members of its community to suicide in four months.

“It was an immediate reaction,” he said. “You want to help and you feel that there are things you can do. I think I’m more sensitive to it as a high school teacher. I’ve known a number of people personally in my life who have committed suicide. I’m very well aware of bullying and suicide.”

He said the high school where he works has about 1,200 students and he wondered what the impact would be if four students in the school took their lives by suicide in four months.

“It would be huge,” he said. “When I put it into those terms, I just felt that it was something that I definitely wanted in some way to be able to lend some assistance to.”

One of the suicides was a 19-year-old female University of Ottawa student home for the summer. River route

Frimeth contacted the First Nation and presented band officials with the money, along some T-shirts and medicine wheel lapel pins.

Then he headed to the headwaters of the Nahanni, known as the Moose Ponds, from Fort Simpson by float plane. From there, he paddled to Nahanni Butte. The trip involved going around Virginia Falls. He was on the river from July 6 to 21. Graffiti on the side of a building in Fort Simpson expresses a feeling shared widely in the community. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC) “The Nahanni is a very spiritual river,” he said.

His canoe, made out of birch, was shipped to the N.W.T. by transport truck. Frimeth himself flew from Ontario via Alberta to N.W.T. and back again.

“All of these suicides were seemingly unrelated. The big thing is, it doesn’t matter if you are First Nations, it doesn’t matter if you live in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, or you live in Fergus, Ontario or you live Kitchener-Waterloo. We are the same underneath. We are all people. We all have feelings.

“Suicide is a major problem.”

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