Pimicikamak youth just want to be heard, community member says

Pimicikamak recently declared a state of emergency. Six people from the First Nation have taken their own lives since December - four were teenagers. Lisa Muswagon and her husband, hip-hop artist HellnbacK, travelled home to offer support to the youth of Cross Lake.
Kendall Robinson (left) invited Karmen Omeasoo (also known as HellnbacK), Tamara Muswagon and Lisa Muswagon to Pimicikamak to meet with youth in that community. (Facebook)

Pimicikamak recently declared a state of emergency after six people from the First Nation took their own lives since December — four were teenagers.

Lisa Muswagon is from the northern Manitoba community. Recently, she and her husband, hip-hop artist HellnbacK, travelled home to offer support to the youth of Pimicikamak, also known as Cross Lake First Nation.

"They wanted to be heard, so we wanted to come out and help share their voice," said Muswagon.

Although Muswagon and her husband, whose real name is Karmen Omeasoo, are both motivational speakers, they did not take those messages with them.

"We didn't want to come tell them 'Hey, this is what you need. This is what needs to be done,'" said Muswagon. She added that the youth are the future of Pimicikamak.

"The way they sounded was very frustrated, like they were lost," said Omeasoo. "We just want to … learn from them what they are going through as youth at Pimicikamak."

The husband and wife used the school gym to house the impromptu gathering. They went on the local radio station and asked people to come out. They also asked for donations of pizza, water and other snacks from local businesses and community members.

Muswagon and Omeasoo asked the crowd what they want to see in their community and what they will do to make those changes happen.

The kids listed off things like a library, a youth area, a gym, a mall and art supplies. Muswagon said they also want their traditions, culture and to dance powwow.

The youth also addressed the darkness that surrounds the community. They shared various issues they face, such as bullying, drugs, alcohol, gambling and prescription drug abuse.

Some brought letters to read out loud.

"One of the messages one of the girls said was 'Please don't hang yourself.' And this is a young girl saying that," said Muswagon.

Lasting legacy of indian residential school

The youth are also encouraging each other to talk. Muswagon said the older population and the elders didn't learn how to communicate because of residential school. 

"These people who went through that system aren't as compassionate," she said. "They don't know how to reach out 'cause they weren't loved themselves."

Children as young as five were taken from their families during the time of government-enforced attendance at residential schools.

"This is the rippling effect of that system," Muswagon said.

But the community is resilient. 

"Everybody learned something. Not just them, but us too," said Omeasoo.

"We learned more about what they're going through, the mentality of how things are around there, and how some of these students and some of these kids, they didn't know that people like us cared."

Muswagon and Omeasoo have been gathering messages of hope, like the one below from Crystle Lightning of hip-hop group LightningCloud. They will send them to Pimicikamak for their youth gathering at the end of the month.