Father struggles with heartbreak, Pimicikamak continues call for help

A Pimicikamak father Sy Umperville said he is taking it day by day after burying his 14-year-old daughter who died by suicide. Band councillor Donnie McKay said the number of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts continues to rise in his community despite efforts to support mental health.

Sy Umperville buried his 14-year-old daughter on Sunday, one of 6 suicide victims in the community

Pimicikamak resident Sy Umperville lost his 14-year-old daughter to suicide on Saturday. (CBC)

A Pimicikamak father said he is taking it day by day after burying his 14-year-old daughter who died by suicide on Feb. 27.

"It was on March 6th that we had the funeral," said Sy Umperville. "I know I wasn't supposed to on a Sunday, no burials on that day, but it was her birthday and I wanted to do that for her."
A letter Sy Umperville received from his nieces after the death of his only daughter. (CBC)

Umperville now carries a picture of his daughter in his pocket everywhere he goes. He said he saw her on Saturday before he went out of town to work and she stayed with her grandparents when he was away.

"I hugged her and told her I love her very much. I told her I'll come back in a few days and make sure to be well behaved and come home early," he said.

He said his daughter was a good student and athlete. He said he saw no warning signs she would soon kill herself. 

"She was always happy. I don't know how she got away," he said.

Community frustrated, says councillor 

Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) band councillor Donnie McKay said the number of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts continues to rise in his community.

"Very, very frustrating and depressing.... You know even at night in my bed I look at my phone wondering when it's going to ring," said McKay.

A special working group has been established to deal with the crisis. The group is made up of professionals who deal with trauma: a doctor, nurse, RCMP officer, social workers, and band councillors.

McKay, who is responsible for the health portfolio, said the group will come up with recommendations to deal with the ongoing crisis and prevention strategies.

Currently the community of 5,858 residents has only one trained therapist, who isn't in there full time, he said.

The rest of the health staff have some degree of crisis management and suicide intervention training, McKay added.

"If this happened anywhere else like in Dauphin or Brandon all resources available would be there already... but up here [there's] nothing," he said.

Healthcare staff are exhausted and crying out for help too, he said, both levels of government need to do more.

"They say what they say over in their sessions but the immediate deliverable is always at arm's length, and we cannot reach that help," said McKay.

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