A string of incidents has resulted in the deaths of three Mistissini residents.
Police received a call around 6:30 am on New Year’s Day; a youth had taken his own life. Out of respect for the family, the Nation is not publishing his name at this time.
“I felt sad,” said Mistissini Police Investigator Derek Etapp. “Our first thought is about the family involved. We think of the kids, if they were married. We also think of why they did it…they were so young.”
A psychologist was called in to speak to the officers about the incident.
The next morning the police were called to the scene of a massive house fire. Gary Shecapio, 29, died of asphyxiation in the blaze January 2 at 9:15 am.
“He had inhaled too much smoke and that was the reason for his death,” said Etapp. “The Surete du Quebec from Chibougamau conducted that investigation.”
Etapp said that the SQ’s investigation revealed that it was an accident.
Later that day Elder Charlie Gunner passed away due to natural causes at the age of 82. Police received a call around 1:30 pm January 2.
People in the Native world say these things happen in threes, but it was still not easy to take, especially another suicide.
“It was very difficult for our people, it hit the community very hard,” said Deputy Chief Kathleen Wootton.
A group of psychologists came into the community to assess the situation and to “work on trying to address social issues in our community, especially issues that concern the youth,” said Wootton.
They are in the final stages of preparing their report. Shortly after the latest incidents occurred, Wootton said health professionals were immediately called in from down south to help.
“The problems stem from many different factors in the community,” she said. “We have to own those problems and we have to stand together and work together to try and resolve these issues ourselves rather than look outside. It’s time. We created the problems; it’s us that have to work to resolve them.”
Wootton said ”violence within the community and bullying at the schools” are major problems. “When kids are in homes where there is a lot of drinking or drugs going on, they’re not able to concentrate on their education,” she added.
Although other Aboriginal communities are afflicted with these problems, Wootton said most of the Cree Nation’s problems can be traced directly back to the 1970s when the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed, ensuring massive flooding of plush green land, the drowning of large game and the contamination of the water system in a short period of time. It is hardly any wonder, she said, that the Cree Nation has never fully recovered from it.
“For a long time these social issues have not been a priority within the Cree Nation,” she said. “They are constantly being sidestepped. Problems like sexual abuse and drinking – we’ve turned a blind eye to all these issues. We have to deal with them now. Our youth are crying out for help. I think it’s time that Cree leaders at the local and regional level stand up and take notice. We need to address it.”
The report will presented to the band council in mid-January.
Wootton said she is not really sure what the solutions are, but that it will take the community as a whole to solve these problems. “There is no quick fix.”