Apathy and boredom may seem harmless at first, which allows them to take root in communities causing devastation among those most affected – the youth.

In Moose Factory, in order to combat the pervasiveness of suicide among the youth, Deputy Chief Charlie Cheechoo began Project George three years ago to help young people break out of the path of apathy, addiction and eventually suicide.

Cheechoo began the project after an Elder spoke to him about what the youth are missing. He told Cheechoo, they need to be shown their traditional ways by going out into the bush and learning ancestral practices of hunting and fishing.

On the same day, a local youth George Cheechoo approached Charlie asking him to take him and a few others out to the bush because they had no one else to do it for them. The first time they went to the bush, George was the only one involved; today three others are working for the project.

Over the past three years, the project has grown and become a program for troubled youth from the Moose Cree First Nation as well as those living off-reserve in Moose Factory.

Many of the youth come from homes torn apart by alcohol and drug abuse. “These are the kids who are left behind,” explained Charlie. “They don’t play sports, they don’t show up to community events – these are the kids I’m going out to get.”

Project George has events throughout the year. They include moose hunting and trapping in the winter along with goose hunting and fishing in the summer with all the food being shared with the community.

The youth are taught numerous activities, including how to set traps, prepare moose meat, ice fish along the Onakawana River and snowmobile. Without the project, these kids wouldn’t have any other chance to learn those skills.

Without the program, the troubled youth in the area would have no one to take them out into the bush and teach them about their culture, thereby preventing them from developing a strong identity and connection to the land.

Part of the problem facing the community, according to Charlie, is that the youth are being sent the wrong message about suicide. The youth in Project George don’t normally bring up the topic, but when it does come up it illustrates why they find suicide so alluring.

“The problem with Moose Factory is that everyone goes to heaven,” a local priest told Charlie, “and the children want to get there faster.” The posts about suicide victims going to heaven along with the tributes to them by the community, such as hanging their hockey jerseys on the local arena rafters, only serves to glorify suicide.

What the youth need to hear is not that their friends are going to a better place, but that life is where our dreams happen. Project George serves those troubled children by giving them a positive outlook on life and providing them with guidance in how to live their lives.

This year the Timmins Police Force is coming on board with the project with the hope of fostering improvement in the relationship between the local youth and the police.

The program would not be where it is today without the support of the Moose Cree First Nation, Northern Stores of Moose Factory, and the Ontario Northland railway company that all contributed to Project George.

Sadly, those who took their lives will never be brought back but that doesn’t mean the fight has been lost. Each troubled youth who goes through the program, learns about their ancestral traditions, and builds up their self-respect is another life saved by the Project George.

For more info or to make a contribution to the project, go to MooseCree.com