Thunder Bay·Audio

Private donor breaks promise to fund suicide prevention, Wapekeka First Nation says

Leaders from a remote First Nation in northern Ontario say they're "extremely disappointed" after they say a private donor "reneged" on his promise to give the community $380,000 for suicide prevention.

Anonymous donor pledged $380,000 for suicide prevention after 2 girls died in January

Boys from Wapekeka First Nation express their pride in their community in a YouTube video posted on Jan. 12, 2017. The First Nation says more funding will help connect young people to their land and culture. (YouTube)

Leaders from a remote First Nation in northern Ontario say they're "deeply hurt" after they say a private donor "reneged" on his promise to give the community $380,000 for suicide prevention.

The anonymous donor pledged the money in January after two girls, both 12, died by suicide in Wapekeka First Nation within days of each other.

The promise came after the girls' deaths made national headlines along with the news that Health Canada had refused to fund Wapekeka's request for help to prevent a suicide pact months before the girls died.

"We are extremely disappointed by this charitable donor for reneging on his promise and feel that he used the community's tragic circumstance of losing two young children to suicide as a publicity gimmick," Wapekeka Chief Brennan Sainnawap said in written statement sent to CBC News.

"Be very, very careful" when accepting help from private donors during a crisis, Wapekeka band manager Joshua Frogg cautions other First Nations. (Martine Laberge/Radio-Canada)
The donor sent $30,000 as a show of good faith within days of stepping forward and the money was used immediately to hire a mental health counsellor in Wapekeka, said band manager Joshua Frogg.

But things broke down it came to negotiating the release of the rest of the promised funds.

The community's plan budgeted $376,706 to hire and train four mental health workers to help establish counseling sessions for young people in the community. It also aimed to connect a group of high risk youth and their families with cultural activities on the land.

"They said there would be no strings attached as long as the money was used for mental health and suicide prevention and then strings were attached," Frogg said.

'Recovery mode'

The donor was seeking reporting requirements more stringent than the federal government and beyond the capacity of a First Nation in crisis, he said.

"The community is in recovery mode. It has been very difficult. Suicide has a long-lasting impact," Frogg said. "Right now we have several children who are still out [of the community] in 24-hour care in different parts of the country. We have families going out for counseling and treatment. It has affected every community member to this day."

The community no longer feels compelled to maintain the donor's anonymity and Frogg told CBC News the person who made the promise is David Slabodkin, the Chief Executive of the Canada Protection Plan. CBC News reached out to Slabodkin for comment but had no response at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, after turning down Wapekeka's initial request, a spokesperson for Health Canada said the plan is now being funded with $380,000 budgeted for 2017/18 fiscal year and another $380,000 for 2018/19.

As well, Health Canada sent $95,000 to Wapekeka after the deaths, a spokesperson said. 

After the Health Canada money came through, the First Nation had hoped the donation would fund it's successful Survivors of Suicide (SOS conference) which helped people from Wapekeka and surrounding First Nations for more than two decades before the federal government cut funding for it in 2015, Frogg said.