Duane Howard, Revenant actor, shines light on suicide crisis in Attawapiskat
'It takes a community to come together as one,' says Nuu-Chah-Nulth actor
The actor who played Elk Dog in the Academy Award-winning film The Revenant says the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and other Indigenous communities has inspired him to take action.
"When this happened in Attawapiskat I was just like, 'I need to go there. I need to address this,'" Nuu-Chah-Nulth actor Duane Howard told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.
First Nations people are "literally crying out for help," he said, "and it's something that we can't ignore anymore."
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In April Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency, saying they were overwhelmed by the number of attempted suicides in the remote community on James Bay.
On one night alone that month, 11 people attempted to take their own lives. From September to April, about 100 people in the First Nation attempted suicide. The youngest was 11, the oldest 71. One person died.
'One heart, one mind, one prayer'
Two non-profit groups — I Love First Peoples and the First Peoples Innovation Centre — are hoping to raise more awareness about the issue.
Form June to October, people can donate online to help fund support services, shout "I love Attawapiskat" on social media, and pack gift-filled shoeboxes to be mailed to youths in crisis.
The Revenant's <a href="https://twitter.com/DuaneE_Howard">@DuaneE_Howard</a> discusses the importance of the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ILoveAttawapiskat?src=hash">#ILoveAttawapiskat</a> campaign at CBC Ottawa <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ottnews?src=hash">#ottnews</a> <a href="https://t.co/Padfrl4s4t">pic.twitter.com/Padfrl4s4t</a>—@CBCOttawa
Howard became the initiative's spokesperson.
"People are saying we've got to help our young people, but it takes a community to come together as one. And there's a saying: one heart, one mind, one prayer, we can all move forward," he said.
"It's important that these things, we do not neglect anymore. We have to stand up as a community and be there for one another. Because it's not only happening to youth, it's not only happening to our young people, it's happening to adults also. They fall into depression and loneliness and hurt and they feel like nobody's there."
His own history inspired him in part, Howard said. He's lost relatives of his own, and was entrenched in street life in Vancouver as a young man after surviving residential school, struggling with addictions, bullying and a general feeling of not fitting in.
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"Physically I was decaying," he said, and at 23 years old he made the choice to break away from that life.
"If I can do it, anyone can," Howard said.
Since starring in The Revenant Howard says he's been travelling Canada, sharing his experiences.
"It really opened up the doorways for me to my community and all over, across Canada and the United States."