Report details youths who took their lives
Alberta’s child and youth advocate probed suicides of aboriginal teens
Over 18 months during 2013 and 2014, Alberta’s child and youth advocate, Del Graff, received reports regarding the suicides of seven aboriginal youths. The outcome of those investigations was his report, Toward a better tomorrow. Here are their stories from the report (names are pseudonyms).
Those who knew Asinay described him as a gentle giant who was intelligent, with a tender heart and a great smile. Asinay had a close relationship with his grandmother, who helped raise him and had spent most of her childhood in a residential school. Asinay was exposed to alcohol, drug abuse and family disharmony. The relationship between his mother and grandmother was marked by considerable conflict and caused him a great deal of anxiety. At seven years old, he had angry episodes. Before he was 10, he displayed mental health issues. Over time, he engaged in selfharm, attempted suicide more than once and frequently spoke about suicide with friends and family. Near the end of his life, Asinay abused substances. The day of his death, he left home after an argument, telling his mother and grandmother that they “would be sorry.” The police found Asinay’s body about six hours later.
SAGE, 15, AND CEDAR, 18
Cedar and Sage were brothers who died by suicide four months apart. Sage was described as shy and tended to hide behind his older brothers. He dreamed of becoming a violinist or rapper. Cedar was outgoing and outspoken, athletic and loved to skateboard and snowboard. The boys were exposed to parental substance abuse, experienced several moves in and out of care and witnessed the physical and emotional abuse of their mother. As time went on, they both stopped attending school and began abusing substances. Sage became withdrawn and disconnected from his family. He also reportedly displayed paranoia and internalized his fears and anxiety. He was found dead inside his family home when he was 15. Cedar felt responsible for his brother’s death and appeared depressed. Four months later, he too was found dead inside the family home.
Morley took great pride in her appearance and cared deeply for others. She was kind-hearted, outgoing and social. During her first 13 years, Morley was exposed to parental substance abuse, domestic violence and neglect. By the time she was removed from her mother’s care, the teenager was self-harming, had suicidal thoughts and was prone to violent outbursts. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the months before her death in a group home, Morley appeared to be making progress. Her death shocked those who had been working with her.
Kari was a friendly, quiet youth who adored her siblings. In her early years, she was exposed to family violence, substance abuse and an unpredictable home environment. It’s not clear if she witnessed her father’s suicide attempt, but her family was affected by suicide. Kari experienced grief and loss when she was suddenly moved from her aunt’s home, with whom she was close, to her father’s care, then lost contact with her aunt due to family conflict. While Kari’s father could take care of some of her daily needs, he wasn’t capable of providing emotional support. Eventually, Kari began talking about suicide and withdrew from family events and outings with her youth worker. One evening, she was found unresponsive in her basement. Despite medical help, she died the next day.
Victoria loved music, her younger siblings and dearly wanted to be adopted. From infancy, she was exposed to parental addictions and family violence, and had no lengthy periods of stability. Her mother had a history of attempting suicide, suffered from depression and died from a drug overdose when Victoria was seven. Victoria had 18 placements over 12 years. She longed to be part of a family. There were three unsuccessful attempts to reunite Victoria with her father, but she struggled with her relationship with him because he couldn’t care for her. After telling a close friend that she thought about dying so she could be with her mother, Victoria was referred to a psychiatrist and a therapist. After a visit with her father was cancelled, she left her foster home. She was found dead near the house a day later.
Jacob loved his family, idolized his father and had a great sense of humour. Shortly before his 17th birthday, he and his girlfriend had a baby. Jacob wanted to provide a stable home for them. From early childhood, Jacob was exposed to substance abuse and violence. He had a number of placements and, from the age of 15, had no stable home. Jacob was also affected by the suicides of family — his mom, aunt and uncle all died of suicide. By age seven, Jacob was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression, and was later found to be cognitively delayed. He struggled with substance abuse and attempted suicide more than once. When he became a father, Jacob yearned for stability and tried to give his child a better life, but his relationship with his girlfriend was volatile. When a referral was made to a supported independent living program, he was rejected because he had not shown stability, leaving him sad, depressed and homeless. Shortly after his uncle’s suicide, Jacob took his own life.
Excerpts are from the report, Toward a better tomorrow.