Your Excellencies, Senator Munson, Colleagues and Friends.
It’s an honour to be here today. I’d particularly like to thank the judges who reviewed my proposal. I am very fortunate to have the support of the both the Michener Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which has also awarded me an investigative journalism fellowship. Without their help, I would not be able to travel to Aboriginal communities to explore this vitally important issue of youth suicide.
I want to tell you why I’m doing these stories. Six years ago, my daughter’s oldest half-sister, Rachel, was a sex worker in Thunder Bay. Rachel was a 25-year-old Ojibway woman and the mother of two young boys. She was her mother’s best friend. And she used heroin to escape the pain of the trauma and abuse she had suffered.
On one particular day, a client picked Rachel up and drove her to his home. As they drove, Rachel told him that she wanted to return to her reserve in Northwestern Ontario to start over. She also talked about a dark time in her life when she had tried to hang herself.
When Rachel got to the client’s home, he pulled out a dog collar he “happened” to have in the back of the truck. He provided a nylon rope. And he asked Rachel to re-enact her suicide attempt, for his enjoyment. So Rachel did – and this time, she died.
Two days later, Rachel’s younger sister, Elvira, missed the plane she was trying to catch to take her back home to join their grieving family. Distraught, she went back to the house where she had been staying and hung herself. She was 19 years old.
Rachel and Elvira left a mother, brothers, children – and a sister who will not now ever get to know them.
Aboriginal suicide touches far too many families. We sometimes hear about these deaths, especially if there are clusters of suicides. But unless these young people are our family members, we don’t know their stories. We don’t hear enough from young people about what they need to help them survive – to get through the pain.
There are many Aboriginal communities working hard to prevent this epidemic of suicide, and to give their young people hope. As a country, we need to know more about what works, and what could be transferred from one community to another.
I will use this fellowship to tell the stories of young people and communities in crisis. Even more importantly, I hope to learn about approaches that could work in other places across Canada to save the lives of our children and youth.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell these stories and to explore public policy approaches that could help us stem this tide.
2012 Michener-Deacon Fellowship recipient
Michener Awards ceremony
June 12, 2012