Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shamattawa Four Suicides: A Good Opportunity for a Media Sound Bite.

Shamattawa is in the news today for some very sad and horrible events. Four young people have killed themselves.  The Reserve is north eastern Manitoba and it is isolated. Only way in is by Winter ice road or by plane.  The people speak their language and have a strong connection to the Land (still). There is a strong Christian influence on the people. Shamattawa is not unfamiliar with tragedy.  Just do an internet search and you will come across a number of news reports on the social ills and hard times that Shamattawa faces. You will also find the kind of nonsense by the bigotry of ignorance. People saying they are wasting tax payers dollars keeping Reserves and such. That's okay, one person's crisis is another person's fodder. 
Wab Kinew & Shamattaw youth 2013

The thing I am interested in is the frenzy a crisis brings out. It is an opportune time to get a message out. A good time to knock someone over the head with. A good time to get you seen in the news. A good time to show how good, concerned and informed you are. That is a good thing. Without crisis things would be mundane. The Chinese have a great curse; "may you live in interesting times". In the Native community there are indeed interesting times. We have been at the end of a saber for a long time now. Canada (and the U.S. Kitchi-Mokoman-Land of the Big Knife-sabre ) are in a battle with the Indigenous folk of the Land.

Shamattawa, Manitoba
All the Land grabbing, stealing, kid-napping, assimilation, extrimination have all taken its toll on the scrappy Native. I say scrappy because they are still grooving; still dancing; still talking; still hunting, still fishing, still learning and still Living. Of course there are going to be hardships. You can't have suffered under all that colonial attacks without coming out a little unscathed. So you see that impact in the social ills facing Natives today.

Suicide is part of the package. It is part of the ordeal. It is part of the all that good stuff that happened to Natives at the hand of many (well intended or not); the Church, Prime Minister, English, French, military, media and the citizen. How do you overcome all that baggage? Well its a hard thing to answer. Some decide well that's enough, death is one answer.

What becomes of that death? Well in times like this, you get the media poking microphones at anyone and everyone. Chiefs come out and see the microphone and you know that old saying; "give and Indian a mike and you can't get it away from him(her)."  Same principle with government officials; give them a mike and well, "you just never know what you going to get". The media is a powerful tool that is good and bad. Good because it can bring to light the troubles people face and bad because it can also paint pictures ugly.

How can one take advantage of a situtation where people are dying? It happens everyday. Polticians need platforms and if someone dies? Great, lets stand on their corpse and yell to the heavens about it. Don't get me wrong, we need to shout and to shout loud about the ills of society; the pain that affects our communites.
Suicide in Aboriginal communities is nothing short of crazy, insane, out of control. If the percentages of suicides that occur in Aboriginal communities occured in the main stream population, the country would be crazy, insane. You would have people in the streets; shouting from roof tops; politicians would be in lock down; and hockey games would be cancelled. That is how panicked and upset Canadians (and Americans, well White America) would be.  However... its just those damn Indians... again (sigh).  So who is going to yell from the roof tops?

Our Grand leaders are going to do it!  Grand Chief of Manitoba's North; Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of Manitoba, Grand Chief  of the South.   We do need their voices. However... why is it that their voice only sound when the issue is in the media? Why are they not persistently adding voice to the suicide deaths consistently?  I mean suicide has been problematic for a heck of a long time in the Native community. This recent crisis in the media is a repeat episode from many Aboriginal communities, aka Indian Reserves.

Why are our voices not heard or our ears not opened to prior to some suicide?  Why must it be a few seconds, moment of air time in a news segment? How come the answers lie with blame of others?  Of course its complicated. Of course there are no quick fixes. Of course it only matters when a suicide is personal to you. Of course it only matters if it gets in the media.

It should matter all the time and to everyone. 
Native Child Poverty Canada
You know there are people that are fighting to keep alive everyday. They just don't get the media attention like politician do. But their work and their voice is no less important. Look at people who do Native Ceremony; they are battling our demons. Look at a guy like David Blacksmith. He goes to Native communities and gets people talking about suicide and suicide prevention. His method is to get the youth involved in Native Traditions; like the Sundance.
Sundance sacrifice

For us we have tried to get groups and communities involved in Talking about suicide, prevention and loss.

Those gatherings had small audience. None of those ears where leaders. Only those affected by suicide.

Shamattaw Youth 2013. A
Maybe the ears will be many and for longer periods this time. We are losing so many young Native voices. All over Canada and United States.

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