Northern Manitoba First Nation healing after suicide crisis wants to reach out to Attiwapiskat

A youth leader in a Manitoba First Nation is saddened and dismayed to hear that an Ontario First Nation is dealing with a crisis of suicide attempts among youth - similar to what young people in his home community experienced just recently.

One month ago Pimicikamak declared state of emergency after 6 suicide deaths

A vigil was held in Pimicikamak on Sunday to remember the six people who died by suicide. (Facebook)

A youth leader in a Manitoba First Nation is saddened and dismayed to hear that an Ontario First Nation is dealing with a crisis of suicide attempts among youth - similar to what young people in his home community experienced just recently. 

"I was shocked," said Mervin McLeod from Pimicikamak in northern Manitoba, referring to the state of emergency declared in Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.  "I heard this while I was at the candle light vigil on Sunday. I was just shocked and in disbelief."

The Ontario First Nation's calls for help come exactly one month after Pimicikamak asked for support to deal with a suicide crisis that took six lives over four months. 

Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency on April 9 after 11 suicide attempts in one night. 

Pimicikamak still healing

McLeod, who runs a youth group called Project STOP, said people are still trying to heal from the suicide crisis that shook his First Nation in March.

He said while attempts are still happening, no one has died from suicide since the crisis was called.

McLeod said his 15-year-old cousin is among the people who tried to take her own life in the last month. He said he reached out to her and invited her to to join Project STOP.
Mervin McLoed started a youth group in Pimicikamak to show young people that suicide is not the answer. (Jillian Taylor/ CBC)

"I am here. [I am] trying to do my best to help the youth and help my community and raise hope and awareness," said McLeod. He said he wants to do the same for other communities, including Attiwapiskat.

"It makes me want to jump up and create awareness for reserves that are having a hard time."

On Wednesday, a group of 30 young people and chaperones leave for a suicide prevention conference in Thompson.

McLeod said they will be taking SafeTALK training, which certifies participants to become a suicide-alert helper.

"We are going to bring back what we learned and teach others in the community, get our own workshop going for suicide prevention," he said.

McLeod said when the group returns from Thompson, they will also be reaching out to youth in Attawapiskat offer support and hope. 

Mood in school hallways improves

Kendall Robinson said there has been a constant stream of role models visiting Pimicikamak since March.

Kendall Robinson and singer Robb Nash in Pimicikamak in March. (Facebook)
He said at first he was worried the attention would stop when the media left, but said that has not happened.

"We had Lisa Muswagon and her group come in, the OCN Blizzard, Robb Nash and his band, Fresh IE and his group," he said. "It's been good, it's kept the kids busy."

Robinson is the youth co-ordinator  for the Cross Lake Education Authority. He said the mood in the hallways at the schools has improved since four high school students took their own lives earlier this year.

"There are smiles on the kids' faces, but there are still times where they think about the people, the young people who have passed," he said.

The Winnipeg International Children’s Festival Circus and Magic Partnership hosted a workshop in Pimicikamak from April 4 to 8. (Kendall Robinson)
Robinson said he thinks the number of suicide attempts have dropped, but doesn't have any statistics to back up that feeling. 

He said things have calmed down in the past month and attributes that to all the visitors.

"They're keeping busy with all the events and all of the people taking their time to come in and spend time with the kids," he said.

Robinson said the local crisis workers are still in the school to help the students process their grief. A spokesperson for the province said the Crisis Stabilization Team has left, but the Northern Health Region continues to provide ongoing support as required.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, these resources are available:​


Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor