For many of our readers, especially those of you who are parents, this will be a difficult issue of the Nation to read. At least, it should be.
Too often we find ourselves reporting on stories that involve drug and alcohol abuse, broken families, violence and suicide – or combinations of all of the above. This edition of your newsmagazine seems to go beyond our average line-up of depressing stories involving the Cree Nation’s young people.
As the Nation reports on page 10, the year 2007 ended with a crisis at Mistissini’s Voyageur Memorial School. A male student confessed he had twice intended to bring a firearm to school to use against those he thought of as bullies before committing suicide. We are thankful and relieved he was talked out of these acts by a fellow student. Teachers, administrators and community leaders struggled to find the right response to what could have been a horrific school shooting of the sort we have seen elsewhere in North America in recent years.
The New Year began with the suicide of a young man from the same community. Psychiatric professionals are preparing a report on his case so that we might all better understand what is driving more and more youth to attempt suicide, and increasingly succeed.
A third story in this issue concerns the devastating drop-out rate of high school students in Eeyou Istchee. The prospects for the Cree economy and the future of the Cree Nation are directly tied to the educational success of our young people. If only a small fraction of Cree students manage to graduate from high school – to say nothing of the necessity for post-secondary education – the future is dim indeed.
All these stories are directly related. Poor school attendance and achievement, drug and alcohol use, victimization, sexual abuse – they affect all kinds of families in all Cree communities.
Experts and community leaders have already made the case for greater psychiatric, police and support services directed toward our youth. Those resources will be welcome. More importantly, we believe, are the changes needed to be made at home.
A common thread that connects far too many of these stories is the neglect that children have repeatedly been shown by their own parents. Inevitably, this neglect evolves into terribly self-destructive behaviour that has huge impacts on the rest of the community.
By now we all know why this problem exists. Radical social and technological change over the course of a single generation has created a disconnection between the lives of our parents and those of our children. And, of course, the generations of parents who were educated in residential schools learned plenty about abuse and despair, but not of love and caring.
But it’s not enough to blame the past. If we want a better future for our kids, parents need to take action in the present.
Parents need to be involved in all aspects of their children’s lives. From homework to sports, to friends, fun and how to handle conflict, our mothers and fathers – to say nothing of grandparents, aunts and uncles – must once again become much more hands-on in the raising of their kids. Psychiatrists and social workers are great as stop-gap measures, but they can never replace the love of a mom or a dad.
Another form of parental love is discipline. Children who never know what the limits are will keep pushing and misbehaving until they find them. If parents never establish and consistently enforce those limits, eventually, society will.
There is a crisis affecting our youth that must be addressed by all branches of Cree society, beginning at home.