The Crees of Attawapiskat are fighting back against youth suicide.

“Something reporters miss is the potential of the community to do something for people in trouble,” says Maurice Sutherland, a solvency-abuse worker in the community of 1,400. “They just talk about the problems. What we’re trying to do is talk about solutions.”

Attawapiskat, located 240 km north of Moosonee, is one of three First Nations communities that have asked the federal and provincial governments to do more to fight native youth suicide and fund community-based prevention programs. The deputy chief of Attawapiskat, Greg Shisheesh, told reporters that 87 young people have committed suicide in the 46-community Nishnawbe Aski Nation since 1986 and gasoline sniffing is rampant.

Sutherland said the problem of suicide in Attawapiskat stems from the residential schools, which only closed in 1972. “In the residential schools we were brainwashed, there was sexual abuse, a lack of communication between families, lack of teaching of parental skills. It wasn’t the way we brought up our kids before.”

He said most suicidal kids have problems at home and are early-age school dropouts who speak only Cree. Sutherland said the government has contributed by doing little about poor living conditions, a lack of housing and running water, high unemployment and inadequate recreation facilities for youth.

Sutherland called on the government to help Attawapiskat deal with suicide by funding the construction of a sports arena and solvency-treatment centre in the community. Now, the closest treatment is far away in Manitoba, which isn’t helpful for youth who speak only Cree.

Do you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions for people thinking about suicide? If so, send us your ideas to The Nation, P.O.B. 48036, 5678Parc Ave., Montreal, H2V4S8.