Suicide rates on Native reserves are more than three times the national average. September 10th of this year marked the second annual National Suicide Day. The Nation recently sat down with Chisasibi resident Sally Herodier to discuss what she and her family have gone through the last 15 months without their son Ernest.
Sally Herodier had just gotten back from working three weeks in Quebec City updating the Cree Hunters and Trappers income security files. She felt that a vacation at her family’s camp was warranted when she got back so she and her husband Sherman, one of her sons and three grand-kids headed out to the bush. Her youngest son Ernest as well as two of his sisters stayed behind.
After staying at one of their camps near Chisasibi overnight, the Herodiers headed out the next morning to their final destination.
They had just arrived at the camp when Sally’s brother-in-law, his son and his nephew arrived to tell them that something had happened and they needed to get back to Chisasibi right away.
When they got back home their hearts sank. They were told that their youngest son Ernest had taken his own life, leaving behind his one-year-old son Tyrell and long-time girlfriend Greta.
“I don’t recall very much about that day,” said Sally, of the incident that happened in her back yard August 8, 2003, six days before his 20th birthday.
“It was pretty hard because he was our baby. We tried to stay together to get through it.”
Sally said that her daughter Valerie, who was home from her school in Hull, saw everything.
“She was very strong and to this day she’s stayed strong. She talks openly about the incident with the family.”
That fatal day in August involved a series of events.
Ernest was invited to go to the camp with his parents, to which he replied that he already had plans to go hunting with his friends. After that plan fell through, he went to his parent’s house.
“We don’t have a habit of leaving our guns around. We usually put them away in a safe place,” said Sally. “The one gun that was left behind was one that hadn’t been working for years.”
Tragically, it was the gun Ernest used to take his own life.
The other sister that stayed behind that day, Jennifer, felt that she could have done more to prevent the tragedy. “The first year was hard for her,” said her mother. “She was blaming herself for not hearing him that morning.”
But since then she’s been feeling better and has been seeing a “healer” to help her deal with her pain.
Four months after that sad day in August, Sally’s father passed away with Alzheimer’s.
Ernest, like everyone else, had his problems. One of the burdens he was carrying with him however, was the death in 1998 of his friend, Patrick Neacappo.
His basketball team had just played in a tournament in Mistissini and they were headed back to Chisasibi. One of the vehicles carrying team members crashed. Three people died including Neacappo. Ernest dropped out of school not long after. He was never the same after that.
The family sought professional help at first, but found more solace in self-healing. “We never shied away from it. A month after it happened we started talking about it. It really helped to be able to discuss our feelings freely,” said Sally.
“We’ll pick a night and just sit down and start talking about Ernest. We talk about what we miss about him and the dreams we’ve had [about him] since he’s been gone.”
“We also read a lot of books on grieving and it helps quite a bit.”
Part of the reason for the alarming suicide rates on reserves, says Sally, is a lack of communication and a lack of activities.
“There’s nothing for the kids to do. When Halloween comes around it’s fun for them, but when it’s over they go back to being bored,” she said. “That’s when they get into the drinking and drugs.”
She added that there needs to be a psychologist and counselors available
where kids can go for help at any time and not just when someone commits suicide.
When asked what she misses most about Ernest, she quickly replied, “everything. It’s important to talk to your kids and let them know everyday that you love them. Sometimes that’s all they need to hear. If you see the warning signals, don’t ignore them, get help as soon as possible.”
Sally told the Nation about a time not long after the incident when her family congregated outside just before going to bed. At the time the northern lights were shining very brightly and they couldn’t help but stare up into the sky in awe at their beauty. While admiring Mother Nature they saw what they perceived as an angel. They viewed it as a sign from above and from that day forward felt a warm glow in their hearts.
“My father told me that if a person wants to succeed in taking their own lives they will if it’s their time to leave this earth,” she said. “I truly believe that. My son succeeded because it was time for him to go.”