Edmonton

Alberta report details 'heartbreaking' life stories of 7 Indigenous youths who committed suicide

In a report released Monday, Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate chronicled the short, troubled lives of seven Indigenous youth who committed suicide in 2013 and 2014.

Exposure to traumatic events increased risk of suicide, says Alberta's child and youth advocate

The lives and suicides of seven Indigenous youths in Alberta are the subject of a new report released by the province's child and youth advocate. (CBC)

In a report released Monday, Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate chronicled the short, troubled lives of seven Indigenous youth who committed suicide in 2013 and 2014.

All of the youths either were receiving child intervention services at the time of their death or had in the two years preceding it.

The report found their exposure to traumatic events during their childhoods increased their risk of suicide.

Here are their stories (with pseudonyms used).

Asinay, 14

Friends and family described Asinay as a "gentle giant" who was polite, articulate, confident and friendly.

He was raised by his mother and grandmother, who had spent much of her childhood in a residential school.

Child and Family Services became involved when Asinay was 12 because there were concerns he was being verbally abused by his grandmother and was exposed to drug and alcohol abuse by his mother.

He had trouble sleeping, suffered nightmares and began to harm himself. He once stabbed himself in the chest after an argument with his mother.

Assessed at high risk of suicide, Asinay was given counselling and prescribed antidepressants.

After an argument with his mother and grandmother, he left home telling them they "would be sorry."

Police found his body six hours later.

Sage, 15, and Cedar, 18

Sage and Cedar were brothers. Sage was shy and dreamed of becoming a famous rap artist. Cedar, an athlete, loved to skateboard and snowboard.

The boys' mother was exposed to domestic violence when she was a child and her parents struggled with addictions. The boys, in turn, witnessed her being emotionally and physically abused by men with whom she had relationships.

They were in and out of foster care for years as their mother struggled with addiction.

Eventually, both Sage and Cedar stopped going to school and began abusing substances.

Sage was found dead in his family home. Cedar felt responsible for his brother's death. Four months later, he committed suicide.

Morley, 15

A kind-hearted, outgoing girl, Morley cared deeply for those around her, especially her younger brother. She longed to live at home with her mother and siblings.

Morley's mother had been abused as a child and was a victim of domestic violence. She struggled with depression and addictions, which led her to neglect her children.

Morley began cutting herself. When she told a caseworker that she had tried to hang herself, she was taken into care.

Over the next several months her foster parents reported that Morley was hearing voices telling her to cut herself. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Her behaviour deteriorated. She was taken to hospital after she was found with a rope around her neck. After she was discharged, she threatened to stab herself and banged her head against the floor trying to get the voices out.

When she was 14, she was placed in a residential facility because she was considered a risk to herself.

Despite months of improvement, she was found dead in her bedroom.

Kari, 15

Kari was a friendly, quiet girl with a wonderful sense of humour who adored her siblings.

Her parents struggled with substance abuse and had a volatile relationship.

When Kari was 18 months old, she and her three-year-old brother were found unattended in a home with no food. Child and Family Services apprehended the children.

They were returned to their parents the next day but were apprehended again when Kari was four because both her parents were intoxicated.

The children were placed in a foster home. Kari had trouble adjusting and often cried for hours at a time.

The children were eventually taken in by an aunt. But after a violent incident involving alcohol abuse, they moved back in with their father, even though he was brain injured from an accident, required assistance for daily living and was suicidal.

Kari was very upset about leaving her aunt's home, became withdrawn and three months later was found unresponsive.

Victoria, 15

Victoria was a shy girl who loved music and her younger siblings.

Neglected and abused by a mother who had endured the same treatment when she was a child, Victoria was shuffled between the homes of relatives and foster care. Her wish was to be adopted.

Her mother died of a drug overdose when Victoria was seven. She and her brother were eventually adopted by an aunt, who later pleaded guilty to assaulting both of them. Despite this, she eventually ended up back in her aunt's care.

Five months later, Victoria was hospitalized after she overdosed on prescription medication. An assessment concluded she was not acutely suicidal but may suffer from attachment disorder and PTSD.

She was moved to a foster home and wanted her foster parents to adopt her.

When a visit with her father and younger sisters was cancelled at the last minute, she left her foster home. A day later, she was found dead.

Jacob, 18

Respectful, polite and with a great sense of humour, Jacob loved his family and idolized his father.

Jacob's parents both struggled with addictions and anger issues. His mother killed herself in the family home when Jacob was 11. His father was often violent when he drank but Jacob wanted to live with him.

From an early age, he and his siblings were placed variously with extended family and in foster homes.

When he was 14, he started visiting his father again and refused to live anywhere else, so he was placed with him.

His father was homeless and they moved between their First Nations community and the city. His father had an extensive criminal record, and when he was in jail, Jacob stayed with relatives.

When Jacob was 15, he attempted suicide twice. Once, he was found lying on the railroad tracks. Two weeks later he tried to hang himself.

Jacob was placed in a secure residential treatment facility but had to leave when he was 16 because of his behaviour. Shortly before he turned 17 he had a baby with his girlfriend.

By the time he was 18, he was depressed and sad, and he and his young family were homeless.

Just before his 19th birthday, his uncle committed suicide. Jacob struggled to accept his uncle's death and shortly after, he killed himself.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Rusnell

Former investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell was a reporter with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton, from 2008 until 2021. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta.

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