A spate of suicides has hit a northwestern Ontario native community, prompting exasperation from the Chief over the community’s poor housing, lack of land and inadequate funds for a healing centre.
Pikangikum Chief Gordon Peters accused Canada, Ontario and the Assembly of First Nations of abandoning his community.
Most of Pikangikum’s 1,600 residents and members of six nearby First Nations spent Aug. 9 at the funeral of Anthony Hill, 29. Hill, a father of two young children, hung himself in his bedroom closet the Thursday before, the latest in a numbing list of suicides. There have been five so far this year and more than 50 attempts. Gasoline sniffing and alocohol abuse are also rampant.
Shortly after Hill’s death, a 13-year-old girl ran into the dense bush surrounding the village, about 300 km northeast of Winnipeg, and threatened to kill herself with a knife. Days later, a 21-year-old man was found unconscious in a police cell after trying to strangle himself with his T-shirt.
Federal Indian Affairs Ron Irwin said Pikangikum is not as badly off as other native communities. It has a new hockey arena and other services some reserves don’t have, he said in a Canadian Press report. “I’ve seen far worse in many First
Fourteen new houses are also being built, he said, although a backlog remains. “I don’t think throwing more money at the problem is the solution.”
The day after the funeral, on Aug. 10, the Pikangikum Band Council boarded up the local police detachment and threatened to kick officers out of the community. Chief Peters told Canadian Press that he and other band councillors were forced to spend most of the early morning hours the previous day searching for a group of 10 suicidal and violent teenagers.
The four police officers stationed in the community were nowhere to be found, he said. “The band councillors and I aren’t trained to deal with this kind of thing,” said Chief Peters.
The teenagers, who were high on gas fumes, fled into the bush and were threatening to kill a security guard.
A provincial police spokesman in nearby Kenora said the officers were already looking for the youths when Chief Peters tried to contact them.