Aboriginal study to examine youth suicide on reserves

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has launched a new study this week aimed at solving one of the biggest crises in the province's First Nations: youth suicide.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs launched a new study this week aimed at solving one of the biggest crises in the province's First Nations, youth suicide.

Theassembly is working with the University of Manitoba's Centre for Aboriginal Health Research on the three-year project. It has also secured the expertise of Chris Lalonde, a psychology professor and a top international expert on aboriginal youth suicide from the University of Victoria.

Organizers announced details of the study onTuesday at the Traditional Youth Gathering,the AMC's annual youth conference, near the Peguis First Nation on Fisher Bay.

Amanda Meawasige, the AMC's youth suicide prevention co-ordinator, said the study will be unique in that aboriginal people will be talking to aboriginal people.

"Suicide is such a very taboo issue, it's something we didn't want to be phoning around about," Meawasige said.

"We wanted to go in person, offer tobacco, do ceremonies if it's necessary, to actually begin asking these questions. We wanted to take a… culturally rooted attempt at it."

According to the AMC, young people on reserves kill themselves at rates five to seven times higher than other young people, but not all reserves suffer from high suicide rates, Meawasige said.

So the study will find out what those places are doing right.

"We can respond to our own crisis situation in ways that we know have worked for us," she said.

Meawasige said cultural activities, such as drumming and traditional craftwork, have also been known to help address youth suicide.

But Tanita Spence, 16,from SandyBay, said parents must set a good example for their children.

"The alcohol and drugs with their parents, and they're the ones [who] say, 'Oh, you guys are the future,' " she said. "And they don't even take care of us."

Tanita first tried to hang herself from a tree when she was 12 years old. "I just felt so empty, I guess. I felt unloved," she said.