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The toxic headlines, the comment sections, the conversations with "helpful" strangers; how does a young indigenous youth process and proceed? It's hard enough just being a "native teen." When you're locked down in "Indian" designation, you have to cope with the confusion, fear, anger and anguish that you are exposed to every day.
Last month, I wrote about my frustration with how slowly Canada is moving toward reconciliation with First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples. I despaired about the bad news coming out of reservations, the streets, the jails, our women and girls, the youth suicides... and wondered if we were ever going to move from pretty words to action.
"They should leave the reserves without a decent education?"
Entrepreneurship, from my experience, could mean the difference between life and death for these kids. Although I grew up fairly privileged compared to others, I could have easily ended up in prison as many of my childhood friends have. I could have easily committed suicide, been murdered or passed away from addiction as others I knew did, but entrepreneurship saved me. I have gone through hell to succeed and it was anything but a smooth road, but, it kept me too busy and motivated to get into trouble for enough years to mature as a person and gave me something to look forward to.
I contend that the decades of poverty, the murder of more than 1,000 women, the many youth suicides, and the general degradation of a race of people deserve equal attention to the aid and love being bestowed on Fort McMurray. Why is one crisis receiving massive support while another is getting little attention?
"Not only did the last school [not] close down until 1996, but the damage inflicted poisoned our stream of thought for generations to come."
New suicide attempts and overdoses bring “sense of uncertainty” to northern First Nation.
Dealing with the current crisis isn't enough, because this crisis is unending. As the Attawapiskat teen who confronted Bennett pointed out, our First Nations are living in third-world conditions, and that needs to be dealt with first. We need to build livable houses with access to drinkable water. We need to hire permanent local mental health care workers and addiction specialists. We need to get adults jobs, be it developing local resources, producing and selling traditional goods or telecommuting to office jobs. As Bill Yoachim of the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver Island told CBC when asked about the suicide crisis: "We need to create space, whether through sport or culture or recreation, to make people feel alive."
The biggest complaint I hear from teenagers is that we don't take them seriously. The teens of Attawapiskat have made a list of what they have in their community, their community and social assets if you will. Things like a gym, a Healing Lodge, and a school. They have also made another list: 'What we need.' Notice the list was not titled what we want. Need. These children need a Fitness Centre; it was the first thing on their list. The second was a Track and Field facility. More Sports, a Youth Camp and a clean Swimming Pool. We need to listen now, and give them what they need before it's too late.
"I wanted to give up on life. But now, I know that it shouldn't be that way. I'm slowly learning about life and taking it day by day."