Christine Daniels, a student at Children of the Earth High School: Making the youth suicide crisis in indigenous communities a top priority is a great first step, but creating a national prevention strategy takes time. We acknowledge your plan to meet with the chief of Attawapiskat in Ontario. How can you help youth currently in crisis in Pimicikamak in Manitoba?
Trudeau: Obviously suicide prevention and suicide in general is a huge issue for indigenous communities right across the country — as it is for all of us who see the news coming out of Attawapiskat and elsewhere with tremendous concern.
A couple months ago, I went to visit Shoal Lake (the Ontario First Nation which is the source of Winnipeg’s drinking water) and got to meet with a number of young people who were quite vocal about what their challenges were and where the past dissolutions were. I’m going to be meeting with the chief of Attawapiskat, but just as important for me, I’m also going to be meeting with young people from Attawapiskat because quite frankly when our indigenous affairs minister, Carolyn Bennett, went up to Attawapiskat a little while ago, she spent a lot of time talking to the young people. And the kinds of things that came forward were very different than what the chief had to say about what Attawapiskat needed.
The young people were talking about, ‘can we get courses that will help reconnect us with the land? We don’t know how to hunt or fish anymore, can you help us with sort of survival knowledge that our elders used to know, but got wiped away with residential schools so our parents weren’t able to teach us that? Can you help us take pride once again in our language and in our culture?’
We know there’s a youth suicide crisis within indigenous communities across this country, much higher rates than non-indigenous communities. But if you look at communities that have a great system for teaching indigenous languages and culture, in those communities the suicide rate is way lower than in other communities that don’t have that because so much of the despair and hopelessness and lack of opportunity for the future comes from not feeling good about who you are and where you are.
One of the things that touches me deeply is every time I go to an indigenous school anywhere across the country, I’m welcomed with drumming, with singing, with smudging ceremonies and with a celebration of culture that I see a lot of people just taking for granted as this is just part of what we do and how we celebrate. But to think that 30 years ago, 50 years ago, the federal government worked very hard to try and eliminate drumming, languages, songs, culture from indigenous peoples. It’s so damaging, as we saw from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, that we allowed that to happen for far too long.
As we start to think about how we build economies that go from short-term success towards understanding long-term success, drawing on the people who’ve lived on this land for millennia is a very good philosophy to listen to. But more than that, how we look at creating the opportunities, the jobs, the education, the infrastructure, the housing, the social support, the pathways to success that are so essential for indigenous Canadians to participate fully in our national success is pressing.
I mean when we look at the population of this country, the highest percentage of young people are in indigenous communities. So investing in First Nations education, investing in indigenous opportunities isn’t just about the future of indigenous communities, it’s about the future of Canada and that’s why this is such an important issue for me.