Bullied to death; almost: One Cree woman's story of survival
Chantelle McLeod was severely bullied at school in Stanley Mission, Sask.
When Chantelle McLeod thinks about her childhood in Stanley Mission, Sask., a few warm memories float to the surface: her loving grandmother, the beauty of nature she enjoyed.
But these precious recollections are quickly swallowed up by darkness.
"I didn't see any light. It was always dark," she said.
McLeod said she started to experience bullying in kindergarten and it never stopped. She remembers loving school as a little girl. She got good grades and liked to learn.
This alone would have made her different from many of her classmates, she said, but there was something more glaring, and unchangeable, that made her an easy target.
"I have a light skin complexion," she said. "Growing up on a reservation with this light skin complexion, it does make you an automatic target. So, I went from being called 'fat' and 'ugly' and then 'good for nothing' and 'you're just a white girl, go back to the city where you belong.'"
McLeod, who is Woodland Cree, said these early experiences made her feel unworthy and trapped. She began to experience anxiety.
"I was like, do I even belong here? Even though I grew up here my entire life? I started to question whether I really did belong," she said.
Mean words turn into violence
The 24-year-old said the same four boys bullied her throughout elementary and high school.
In Grade 3, their mean words slowly turned into violence.
"I had my hair in a ponytail, I was so happy to have long hair, finally. One day they just grabbed it and they cut it off," she said.
McLeod said that after this, she didn't want to go to school anymore, but also didn't want to tell her mother what was really happening. She'd skip class — and all of the learning she loved — to hide alone in the bushes.
"It lead to suicide, depression and severe anxiety."
McLeod said her first suicide attempt followed a bad class camping trip in Grade 9.
"I was up there, trying to learn my peoples' way of knowing. I was so fascinated by learning to make a hide, and all of that stuff, and they just said, 'You don't belong here. You don't need to learn how to do this stuff. Go learn how to do this and that, that the white men do,'" she said.
"It just really discouraged me to the point where I didn't want to learn my culture anymore. So, after that trip I stopped. And, I feel like I lost something in me."
Chantelle said she attempted suicide 10 times throughout high school. Each attempt was more serious than the last.
"I honestly don't know how I survived all that," she said.
Education gives hope
McLeod believes her grandmother's encouragement and support is one of the main things that kept her going.
"She really cared for my future. She wanted me to have a good future … every day she would say, 'education is the way out. Education is going to give you a good life,'" McLeod said.
"Those words stuck with me throughout it all."
Six years ago, McLeod found two big reasons to keep going. She gave birth to twin daughters.
"I decided to keep living, for my kids," she said. "A couple years later, it hit me to start living for myself also."
Since then, McLeod had been working on her education degree. During this time, she returned to the same high school where she experienced so much pain, but this time she had the power.
McLeod paid special attention to mental health education during her practicum. She studied how teachers and students were relating to the issue, in the classroom.
She hopes her work will be able to save other kids from the same fate she suffered.
She has advice for kids being bullied.
"Just keep breathing. Literally, keep breathing," she said. "Because in the darkest moments, it may seem like it will last forever. Maybe it will last weeks, maybe it will last months, for me it lasted for years. I felt like I wasn't going to go anywhere. But, eventually you do see that light at the end of the tunnel."
McLeod graduated from Northlands College with her Bachelors of Education in June 2020. In the fall she will join the team at Churchill Community High School in La Ronge, Sask., as the school's new Grade 7 teacher.
Where to get help:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) / 45645 (text) / crisisservicescanada.ca (chat)
- In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
- Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.