Reserve suicide woes highlighted by walk
Native community northeast of Winnipeg plagued
In the past eight years, 36 young people have committed suicide and another 300 have tried in the isolated native community of Garden Hill, 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Peter Taylor, 22, was found slain on a trail on Friday morning in a death the RCMP believe was gang-related.
Last year alone, there were 15 homicides in the district, which includes four reserves with a combined population of only 10,000 people.
On Aug. 18, a group of 12 people, including a 13year-old girl, started a walk to Ottawa from Manitoba to draw attention to the problems of suicide, gangs and other social ills on the reserve.
Walking 120 kilometres a day in five-kilometre relays and leapfrogging from one destination to another, they arrived in Ottawa Sunday night in time for a rally today on Parliament Hill.
“Every person on this walk had lost a family member or a friend to suicide,” said Jason Wood, 34, who drove the van that followed the walkers who include his 14-year-old son, Cordell.
Dre McKay, 14, lost his cousin to suicide about a year ago. “I saw this as an opportunity to help,” he said.
“I’ve lost so many relatives and friends,” added Brigitte Hastings, 13. “I just want people to stop the violence and the suicides.”
The group has walked without signs or an advance press team as they travelled through northern communities including Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins and Sudbury, where more people from Garden Hill joined the group, so it now totalled 23.
Despite the lack of fanfare, curious passersby have stopped by the side of the highway to ask the reason for the trek, said Wood.
“One man driving a big tandem truck gave us $29 and change and said he wished he could give more.
“He said he lost his niece to suicide just a few week ago.”
Members of the group have been warmed by the welcome they have received along the way. Towns have opened community centres and arenas.
On Thursday night, the residents of Mattawa, Ont., scrambled to find food and lodging for the walkers after getting two hours of warning they were headed their way.
The town opened a community centre, a supermarket donated six dozen eggs and restaurants donated bacon, sausages and fries while a local outfitter offered sleeping bags for the group. The next day, the walkers learned of the slaying back home.
Const. Jerry Novack of the OPP aboriginal relations team met the walkers in Deep River, Ont., and arranged for cabins and a spaghetti dinner at a church camp outside Pembroke, Ont.
“It was impressive how fast they were moving,” he said.
Wood said parenting has created some of the problems on the reserve. Young people join gangs because it gives them a sense of belonging and identity, he said. “We need to get in touch more with our kids.” One of the proposals is to create sports leagues. As it stands, there are no teams in the community, said Wood.
“As a fly-in community, it costs $500 just to get to a major centre,” he said.
“Take a hockey team of 20 and multiply it by $500.”
Wood said he has been touched by the kindness of the people he has met on the road, and by the bonding among the teens on the walk.
“They’ve become best friends.”