Monday January 22, 2018

'We Matter': Indigenous youth raise their voices in the fight against suicide

About 70 Indigenous youths from across the country gathered at Ottawa's Wabano Centre on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, ahead of a national round-table discussion on suicide.

About 70 Indigenous youths from across the country gathered at Ottawa's Wabano Centre on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, ahead of a national round-table discussion on suicide. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

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From the first nation of Attawapiskat, to Lac La Ronge in Saskatchewan, to Wapekeka First Nation in Northern Ontario — the youth suicide crisis continues to devastate Indigenous families and communities across Canada.   

But as provincial and federal governments continue to discuss what needs to happen to stop the wave of suicides, a very different kind of discussion was launched on January 21 in Ottawa. 

Seventy young people from across Canada joined together for a two-day summit called the Hope Forum, organized by Facebook and We Matter, the multi-media youth empowerment campaign.

The Hope Forum marks the first national conference to focus on the voices of young people dealing with the suicide crisis first-hand. 

Tunchai Redvers

Tunchai Redvers wants Indigenous youth to know that they matter. (CBC)

"What is missing in all of these conversations ... is that voice of Indigenous youth. And they're the ones experiencing this, the ones dealing with this, and they know what they need in their communities," says Tunchai Redvers, co-creator of We Matter. 

Redvers recalls at the Hope Forum, youths leaders in attendance were asked to stand up if they had lost loved one to suicide.  

"Every single person stood up — every single one," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. "In a room of over 70 people — ever single one of them has lost someone to suicide."

Closest to the crisis, youths can offers insight into the issues facing a generation of people who feel they have no way out. But Redvers says this proximity also means that young people are the most impassioned to see real change, to take constructive steps — something the public and politicians can learn from. 

Children in Buffalo Narrows at suicide meeting

Children in Buffalo Narrows, Sask., prepare to walk down the main street with their suicide prevention messages. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

"There is so much strength and there is so much hope in young voices and that's what this Hope Forum is all about. Really moving forward in a good way."

The forum grew out of We Matter, which Redvers started with her brother back in October 2016.

Their non-profit gathers video messages of hope from Indigenous role models from across the country and shares them on social media.

"These videos communicate to Indigenous youth who may be struggling or going through a hard time that no matter how hard life gets there is always a way forward."

Within a month of launching the campaign, We Matter reached over a million people through social media.

Technology is being touted as an essential tool for helping young people in suicide prevention at this forum, and others. 

"In my experience the only way that we're going to reach youth — truly reach them in this generation — is through social media," says Corey O'Soup, Saskatchewan's first Indigenous advocate for children and youth.

Redvers says this renders the issue of poor Internet access in many North communities all the more pressing.

'Ultimately it's up to everybody to address this issue.' - Tunchai Redvers

But Facebook not only provided the foundation for connectivity — the tech-giant also offered fiscal and logistical help for the Hope Forum.

"Facebook has been this incredible partner … This Hope Forum wouldn't have been possible without them and without their support."

Redvers and O'Soup both agree Indigenous youth should be heard, but they shouldn't be left to fight the crisis on their own.

Kelvin and Tunchai we Matter group

"We Matter" co-creators Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers with other members of the non-profit.

"It's up to the government — federal, provincial — it's up to indigenous governments, to communities to the general public to address this issue — and so often that burden does fall on Indigenous youth," says Redvers.

"Ultimately it's up to everybody to address this issue."

"I think the government needs to step in and provide support provide resources — provide dollars," adds O'Soup.

"As we continue to come up with these solutions ... I believe the federal government has to stand up — and listen."

Don't suffer in silence

If you're experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, call the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. It's toll-free and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of local crisis centres which can be viewed here.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or the number for emergency services in your community.

Listen to the full audio near the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Josh Bloch and Kori Sidaway.