Cross Lake First Nation was in the international spotlight the last month due to the heartbreakingly high rise in suicides and suicide attempts over the last six months. Since December, six people, five of them youth, have taken their own lives and many more have attempted the same, especially in the past 2-3 months.
The most recent fatality was a young girl whose funeral was held on March 6, on what would have been her 15th birthday. Currently more than 10% of the 1,200 students in Cross Lake are on suicide watch. Statistically, these students are 5 to 6 times more likely to end their lives than the average student, and suicide is the number one cause of death for First Nation aboriginals under the age of 44.
Due to the sudden increase in these incidents, the Canadian government has sent in many short term counsellors. There have been cries for youth programs and constructive activities to keep them from the lure of sex, drugs, and alcohol. But many see these as band aids to the root cause of the despair these kids face.
In Cross Lake, there is an 80% unemployment rate. Most people live off small welfare stipends from the government that do little to improve the actual quality of life. Additionally, they are often isolated from the rest of Canada and ill-treated as second class citizens. Clearly it will take well-implemented, long-term investment and planning to connect the isolated youth to the opportunities of their non-aboriginal counterparts.
The idea that young people may be ending their lives in hopes of being noticed at least in their death has caused many Cross Lake mourners to shy away from their traditional mourning processions, in favour of more private grief at home.