Eskasoni Band councillor Leroy Denny is hesitant to even talk about the subject.
There’s no question, it’s a highly sensitive one — the Nova Scotia native community’s recent struggles with suicides and drug overdoses among its younger members.
“These are lives we’re dealing with,” he told Metro Halifax recently, explaining the situation is starting to look up on the Mi’kmaq reserve, despite the fact that most — if not all — who live there are still mourning the deaths of young family members and friends.
“I’m grieving myself…,” Denny said, trailing off as he spoke.
In fact, since the start of last year, a half dozen Eskasoni youths have taken their own lives, while several others have died due to alcohol and drug abuse.
“We have to focus on our kids,” Denny said, explaining community leaders are trying to keep young people pre-occupied with positive activities, such as camps, youth film festivals and the Eskasoni Culture Recreation and Youth, or ECRY.
“ECRY focuses on assisting future generations by supporting youth programming and continuously offering quality recreational activities,” the group’s terms of reference say.
Eskasoni, about 50 kilometres from Sydney, is the largest First Nations reserve in Atlantic Canada, also turned its cultural centre into a makeshift crisis centre this year.
“We take phone calls (and) people go there,” he said. “We’re online as well – through Facebook and MSN.”
Leroy, who was scheduled to be in Calgary for the national Assembly of First Nations, said he hoped to let other native leaders know this week that creating a crisis centre for youth has already made a huge impact.
“The chiefs should support it,” he said, adding there should be a national centre. “It’s a crisis, I believe, throughout the First Nations communities.”
According to the 2006 Statistics Canada Census, the suicide rate for First Nations youth is five to seven times higher than for non-Aboriginal Canadians.