‘This death could have been pre­vented’

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - ONTARIO NEWS - COLIN PERKEL THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TORONTO — The fam­ily of a teenager who killed her­self in a re­mote Indige­nous com­mu­nity on James Bay is call­ing for a coroner’s in­quest into her death two years ago, which sparked a cri­sis that gar­nered in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and po­lit­i­cal prom­ises of change.

In a let­ter to the re­gional coroner in north­west­ern On­tario, Stephanie Hooki­maw said rel­a­tives in Attawapiskat are still strug­gling to come to grips with what drove her daugh­ter Sheri­dan Hooki­maw, 13, to her self-in­flicted death and what might be done to pre­vent fur­ther such sui­cides.

“It seems that noth­ing has changed in the com­mu­nity — it is busi­ness as usual,” Hooki­maw wrote in a let­ter ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press. “The fam­ily and I think, how­ever, that this death could have been pre­vented.”

The let­ter to Dr. Michael Wilson warns that other young peo­ple in Attawapiskat and in Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties else­where are sui­ci­dal. It also cites Health In­sti­tute sta­tis­tics that First Na­tions girls kill them­selves at an alarm­ing rate — seven times higher than their non-abo­rig­i­nal coun­ter­parts.

A coroner’s in­quest, Hooki­maw said, would help get at the sys­temic causes of the sui­cides.

“An in­quiry could help pre­vent more deaths,” Hooki­maw said. “Sheri­dan’s tragic death should not be in vain. We want to see changes in the in­sti­tu­tions that are sup­posed to nour­ish, pro­tect and care for our chil­dren.”

The fam­ily said it had not heard from Wilson to the let­ter sent two weeks ago, and he did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Sheri­dan’s death in Oc­to­ber 2015 sent shock waves through her com­mu­nity of about 2,100 and sparked a rash of sui­cide at­tempts and threats among her peers. The com­mu­nity’s dec­la­ra­tion of a state of emer­gency over the is­sue in April 2016 led to an in­flux of politi­cians promis­ing more men­tal health and other re­sources for the strapped town.

A sim­i­lar tragic cy­cle has played out time and again in other re­mote Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

One politi­cian who vis­ited Attawapiskat at the time, New Demo­crat MP Char­lie An­gus, said Sheri­dan’s fam­ily has asked him to help get an in­quest.

“There is am­ple sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of the need to es­tab­lish in­ter­ven­tion pro­to­cols in the wake of a youth sui­cide to pre­vent the ap­pear­ance of ‘echo’ clus­ters among af­fected peers,” said An­gus, a long-time ac­tivist on be­half of his Indige­nous con­stituents.

At the same time, he said, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed to put in place the “most ba­sic re­sources” to pre­vent th­ese clus­ters.

Sheri­dan’s fam­ily knows she was bul­lied, was a sickly girl with asthma and di­a­betes that re­quired leav­ing Attawapiskat for treat­ment, and had no hope for the fu­ture. The is­sue now, they say, is that other youths in the com­mu­nity are deal­ing with sim­i­lar prob­lems and also seem to have lost hope.

Jackie Hooki­maw Witt, Sheri­dan’s aunt, said she knows sim­i­lar in­quests have been held in the past but said that shouldn’t be a de­ter­rent to hold­ing an­other one — a way to draw at­ten­tion to the wider is­sues of poverty and lack of re­sources plagu­ing her com­mu­nity and oth­ers like it.

“We have to use the of­fi­cial sys­tem that’s there to keep telling our sto­ries, our pain,” Hooki­maw Witt said in an in­ter­view from Attawapiskat. “We have to keep telling our sto­ries and make peo­ple un­der­stand what we’re go­ing through.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

NDP MP Char­lie An­gus wears a pin hon­our­ing Sheri­dan Hooki­maw, 13, who com­mit­ted sui­cide on the Attawapiskat First Na­tion, as he speaks in the foyer of the House of Com­mons on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on May 10, 2016. The fam­ily of a teenager who killed her­self in a re­mote Indige­nous com­mu­nity on James Bay is call­ing for a coroner’s in­quest into her death two years ago, which sparked a cri­sis that gar­nered in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and po­lit­i­cal prom­ises of change.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.