No state of emergency on Alberta First Nation reeling from number of suicides
by Martha Troian, APTN National News, Jan 11, 2018
Maskwacis is reeling after several people died by suicide in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.
There have been eight deaths since late November, all of them between the ages of 15-32, according to some community members.
The epidemic appears to be continuing into the New Year with one suicide attempt taking place as of Jan. 8.
“It seems suicide plagues us,” said Samson Cree Nation band councillor Katherine Swampy in a Facebook message to APTN Investigates.
Samson Cree Nation is one of four communities that make up Maskwacis, located about 95 kilometres south of Edmonton, Alta.
In fact, in the time APTN Investigates communicated with Swampy on Jan. 8, she has since wrote her own sister had attempted suicide and was rushed to hospital.
Swampy said she already lost a brother-in-law to suicide four years ago. He was 21-years-old.
“Our people have a sense of hopelessness, they struggle to survive far below the poverty line, our housing is in the poorest of conditions, our community lacks available employment,” she said.
“Samson has eight thousand people with roughly five hundred jobs available, our people struggle to put food on the table. Life on the reserve is hard, and many of our community members are faced with racism when they try to better their lives and leave the reserve.”
A state of emergency will not declared
For years, Maskwacis have been grappling with poverty, gangs and often highly-publicized violence.
Several community members are pleading for change on social media, asking for the chief and council to call a state of emergency, given the number of deaths since late November.
“We’re not going to declare a state of an emergency yet,” said Chief Vernon Saddleback, Chief of Samson Cree Nation. “It’s tragic. Every one of them are tragic. I’d like to have zero losses.”
Chief and council recently met with the community’s department heads to work together in addressing the community’s needs. Saddleback said he would like to work with the existing resources before reaching out to government.
A spokesperson with Health Canada said in a statement the Maskwacis Health Centre receives funding for counselling and for a variety of mental health programs and that “Health Canada’s Mental Wellness team has been in regular contact with Maskwacis Health Services. Maskwacis Health Services is addressing community mental wellness needs and is not currently requesting additional resources.”
“The Government of Canada acknowledges that the health issues facing Indigenous communities across the country, including high suicide rates among youth and limited access to mental health supports in rural, remote and isolated communities are serious and unacceptable,” the statement said in part.
Walk for life vigil planned
Sherry Greene, a concerned Samson Cree Nation community member who now lives in Edmonton, is planning a Walk for Life Candle Vigil as a way to acknowledge and support grieving community members and families. The vigil will take place at the community’s friendship centre on Jan 13.
“We’ve been in crisis for decades.” she said. “As far (back) as I can remember.”
Greene wants the Samson Cree Nation leadership declare a state of emergency given all the recent deaths which she attributes to hurt and pain from intergenerational residential school trauma.
“In my own family, we have intergenerational trauma and it goes down to the very great-grandchildren of my mother,” she said.
Emily Soosay, a mother-of- four, will be just one of the many community members expected to attend the vigil.
Her son, Luwen Melvin Dayon Soosay, 22, died by suicide just two days before Christmas.
He left behind an 18-month old baby daughter.
Soosay told APTN Investigates that her family has had their share of trauma. Her grandmother, mother and aunts and uncles all attended residential school and her family has suffered everything from gangs, violence to sexual assault.
“He was raped when he was a child,” said Soosay of her son Luwen, who was also in the child welfare system from the ages of six to 13-years-old.
“I was in a gang and he was just starting life,” wrote Soosay in a Facebook message about how her son was sexually abused at the age of 13.
Soosay would also like to see chief and council declare a state of emergency.