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'People should know': Sisters open up about 13-year-old brother's suicide in Fort Albany

Ashley Tomagatick and Lauren Rheault have many memories of laughing and dancing with their 13-year-old half-brother Garrett Tomagatick in the small northern reserve of Fort Albany, Ont.

Garrett Tomagatick is the fourth person to commit suicide in Fort Albany this year: Chief

The suicide of 13-year-old Garrett Tomagatick on Oct. 15 has left the remote, northern community of Fort Albany, Ont., devastated. (Ashley Tomagatick/Supplied)
The suicide of 13-year-old Garrett Tomagatick in Fort Albany is sending shock waves across the James Bay Coast. Ashley Tomagatick and Lauren Rheault are his half-sisters. They spoke about their brother with the CBC's Olivia Stefanovich. 6:19
Ashley Tomagatick and Lauren Rheault have many memories of laughing and dancing with their 13-year-old half-brother Garrett Tomagatick in the small northern reserve of Fort Albany, Ont. 

But one of their fondest recollections is the time he made eggs and toast for more than 20 people last year after their sister's funeral. 

"He was just so proud that he cooked for 20 people all by himself and just trying to help out because we were all grieving," Rheault said. 

Their family is mourning once again because Garrett committed suicide on Oct. 15 — just 19 months after his 27-year-old sister Thomasania Tomagatick took her own life on March 6, 2015. 

"Me and Ashley, we were just shaking," Rheault said when they got the call about Garrett's death.

"We just couldn't believe it."

'People all over aren't aware' 

Rheault, 31, and Ashley, 21, now live in Thunder Bay, but they said they were regularly in touch with Garrett.

They believe he was bullied. 

"When I was living back home with my dad, sometimes he [Garrett] would come home crying. Kids were being mean to him," Ashley said. 

"People all over aren't aware that we just lost our little brother from suicide, from bullying and people should know that."

Garrett's death is the fourth suicide in Fort Albany this year, according to Chief Andrew Solomon. 

"My initial reaction is shock and disbelief that such a 13-year-old with so much opportunities that he would have in life would take his own life," Solomon said.

Garrett's death comes one year after another 13-year-old in the region took her own life. Sheridan Hookimaw's suicide last October prompted a state of emergency earlier this year in Attawapiskat. 

The tragedies are having a ripple effect across the James Bay Coast, according to the Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, Jonathan Solomon, who oversees the region. 

Chief says suicide is 'killing our young people'

"Suicide, I believe, is something that we just can't put it aside and say it will stop," Solomon said.

"It's happening and it's killing our young people."

Solomon is trying to develop a long-term strategy to help his communities prevent suicide. But with few resources, he said it will take time. 

For now, councillors have been flown into Fort Albany to help people address Garrett's death. 

Father Pali Pitso of the Holy Angels Parish is trying to comfort people on the reserve. He said there is help available for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, but people need to come forward. 

"Being isolated and being confined, some people really don't open up," Pitso said. 

"They keep things to themselves. Then when they need to do something, they just explode. They end up committing suicide."
Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon is developing strategies to prevent suicides on the James Bay Coast. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Sister wants her siblings to know 'we're here for you'

Garrett's sisters say it can be hard for people in their tight-knit reserve to reach out for assistance because rumours spread quickly like a "gossip trail."

They want to make sure parents teach their children that bullying is unacceptable, and want to see more resources implemented in the community to raise awareness about the issue.

"People who are doing the bullying probably don't realize they're bullying because everybody is related to somebody so they think oh that's just my cousin. He knows I'm teasing, but really they don't," Rheault said.

"There's no reason why a kid like our brother, who's only 13, should have felt like he had no where to go."

Ashley is encouraging people to become more open about their problems because she said suicide can happen to any one.

"Don't be scared to talk to your family. Your family is the one who loves you and accepts you for who you are," Ashley said. 

"If I had a message for any of my other siblings, it's that I love you guys and I know that we've been going through a lot lately, but we're here for you."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.