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This article was published 2/9/2011 (3343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TORONTO -- Education may hold the key to preventing youth suicide on an Ontario First Nation where kids as young as 12 are killing themselves at a high rate, a coroner's report has found.
Pikangikum, a fly-in community of 2,400 people in northwestern Ontario, is thought to have the highest suicide rate in the world. The problem is acute among Pikangikum's kids and teens, prompting Ontario's chief coroner's office to examine 16 youth suicides between 2006 and 2008. Even in the past two months, community members say five more young people in Pikangikum have killed themselves.
Of the 16 suicides examined by the coroner, four of the children were 12. Suicide at such a young age is extremely rare, the coroner's office said. During the time period examined by the report, one in four of all suicides in Ontario among kids under 15 was in Pikangikum.
People in the rest of Canada should sit up and take note of the crisis, said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy. If a big city saw youth suicides at a similar rate, something would be done, he said.
Three recent deaths of NHL players, including the apparent suicide this week of Wade Belak, have prompted program reviews and tough questions about hockey tough guys. Beardy wants to know why the spate of Pikangikum deaths hasn't raised a similar alarm.
"Already there's an outcry by Canadian society, 'There is something wrong here,' " Beardy said. "That is what we're trying to get at here. Five deaths in 44 days is just not normal."
The troubling statistics in Pikangikum "are a notable aberration and should serve as a call to action by Ontarians," said the report, which was released Friday and contained 100 recommendations.
The top recommendation is for Ottawa to build a school in Pikangikum to replace the one that burned down four years ago. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has committed to rebuild it, but that has not yet happened.
There are 17 portable classrooms but the coroner's office said Pikangikum needs a formal school to serve as the hub of the community and help children get engaged in their education.
The ministry is "very concerned" by the suicides but would not say when or if the school would be rebuilt.
"We are studying the coroner's final review and will respond to those recommendations which fall within the department's direct mandate," spokeswoman Susan Bertrand said in a statement.
Health Canada made a similar statement about recommendations directed at that department.
Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services, Laurel Broten, said she has urged her federal counterparts to lead a national summit focusing on aboriginal children and youth but the response has been "disappointing."
"I've also personally contacted the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development to discuss this and a number of other really serious issues," Broten said.
"As of yet, we do not have a positive response that they are willing to work with us on this critically important issue."
Most of the 16 children were heavily involved in substance abuse, mostly solvent sniffing, and only one was known to attend school.
Programs to improve school attendance and keep kids motivated "would appear to have the most potential for benefits in preventing youth solvent abuse and suicide," the report found.
-- The Canadian Press
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