Wapekeka requested $380,000 last summer when the community discovered a suicide pact among its teenagers. Health Canada originally refused. However, the federal health authority changed its mind after an anonymous donor came forward and offered to pay the $380,000. But that donor has since rescinded his offer.
Dr. Michael Kirlew, a physician in the Sioux Lookout Region who is heading to Wapekeka, credited the First Nation for coming up with a plan last year and trying to get it funded.
“Communities have put forward solutions. It is not as if Wapekeka wasn’t doing anything and just waiting around. It has been almost a year,” Kirlew said, adding the health system is not equitable for Indigenous people and that the kids have no access to the mental health services needed.
“How many youth are going to have to die before we get system transformation. Is it four? Is it five? We need to transform the system or else we won’t improve the outcomes,” he said.
Gary Holub, a spokesperson for Health Canada said the $95,000 payment was the “balance owing” from the fiscal year 2016-2017 and that the department is committed to providing Wapekeka with $380,000 in enhanced funding until 2019.
Since last winter Health Canada has continued to fund additional crisis supports, including three staff rotating every 10 days, up to four mental health counsellors, administration and ground transportation, noted the department in a statement to the Star.
“Since the beginning of the current fiscal year (April 1), Health Canada has provided Wapekeka with close to $1 million for the delivery of their community health programs. On May 9, Health Canada also provided a letter of commitment to Chief (Brennan) Sainnawap confirming $380,000 annually (until March 2019), which will fund four youth mental health workers who were requested by the community,” the statement said, adding the workers are already in place.
Health Canada is now providing “more than $900,000 on an annual basis for mental wellness programs,” the statement said.
This latest crisis was touched off by the death of Jenera Roundsky, a 12-year-old girl whose body was discovered at the outdoor ice rink on June 13 by another 12-year-old, said Frogg. Now there is concern for that child’s well-being.
“That stays with you for a long, long time. I have had to cut down one person (who had hanged themselves), many years ago. It stays with you forever. It never goes away. Can you imagine a child?” he asked.
Trauma teams from Sioux Lookout that stay for a period of 10 days then rotate out will hopefully be soon in place for the next year, Frogg said.
The anonymous donor pulled his funding support after the community questioned his “very detailed agreement” on how the money would be used. “I’m used to looking after reporting to the federal government and the province, but this one was something else. I couldn’t do it, the way he wanted it done. We said we’d use the money — since the federal government was coming through with the $380,000 — towards their annual anti-suicide conference. People look forward to it every year. They come from all over. But then he pulled the money,” he said. “It was disheartening.”
Wapekeka, for years, was proactive in ensuring healing and suicide prevention through community plans and their annual Survivors of Suicide Conference, but lack of funds led to its cancellation.
But the funding for these programs was cut two years ago. The conferences provided healing for the survivors of convicted pedophile Ralph Rowe, as well as their families. Rowe’s child sexual assault charges affected many northern communities. The Anglican priest and Boy Scout leader used to fly into communities and spend time with adolescent boys.
Health Canada now says it will fund the conference once again.
In 1994, Rowe was convicted of 39 counts of indecent assault on 15 boys ages 8 to 14. He was sentenced to six years in prison and served 41/2 years. As part of his 1994 plea deal, he was protected from facing more charges of a similar nature.
In 2006, Rowe faced 75 charges involving 31 victims, the Star reported in 2011. But after preliminary hearings, the complainants fell to 25 from 31 and the charges to 57 from 75. Only two cases resulted in convictions.