(Jolynn Winter, 12, on the left, committed suicide on Jan. 8. Chantel Fox, 12, on the right, committed suicide two days later. Photos used with the permission of the families.)
APTN National News
A northern Ontario First Nation still suffering through the suicides of two young girls earlier this month says it alerted Health Canada to an uncovered suicide pact between youth this past summer but the federal department turned down the request for additional mental health help.
Wapekeka First Nation issued a statement Wednesday evening saying the community identified “several children” who were “secretly planning suicide” last summer and reached out to Health Canada for help in July.
“Our community plan was turned down by the government and now two are dead,” said Joshua Frogg, a spokesperson for the community, in the statement.
Frogg said in a brief interview with APTN National News that the proposed community plan submitted to Health Canada mentioned the suicide pact.
“Every community member is deeply affected. These children could be alive today and their deaths preventable,” said Frogg, in the statement.
Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette said that the department did not technically turn down the request for help, but responded months later indicating it would work with the First Nation to find money to fund an increase of mental health workers.
“In fall 2016, Health Canada indicated to the community leadership that it would pursue funding opportunities in the future to assist Wapekeka in increasing the number of mental health workers in the community,” said Morrissette, in an emailed statement. “Funding has been identified to assist the community and Health Canada has been working over the last several days with First Nations and provincial partners to support the community’s vision for youth mental health programming.”
Tragedy hit Wapekeka First Nation on Jan. 8 when Jolynn Winter, 12, committed suicide. Two days later, Chantel Fox committed suicide, leaving behind a twin sister.
“I can’t believe I had to bury my daughter. It was hard to say goodbye. I honestly didn’t think I could survive losing Chantel,” said Sandra Fox, Chantel Fox’s mother, in the statement.
“I let my girl down,” said Kerry Cutfeet, Jolynn Winter’s father, in the statement.
Wapekeka, a fly-in Oji-Cree community of 430 members which sits about 600 km north of Thunder Bay, was one of several First Nations cursed by the presence of convicted pedophile and ex-Anglican priest Ralph Rowe.
The former Boy Scout leader, who is now in his late 70s, served about 5 years in prison for sexually assaulting children in several northern Ontario First Nation communities. He left behind a trail of about 500 victims.
“Wapekeka, in particular, was a community he preyed upon. Many of Rowe’s survivors struggled with suicide, some taking their lives,” said the community’s statement. “The impact of these child abuse cases, the residential schools and the living conditions of life on-reserve are realities in Wapekeka First Nation.”
The statement said the First Nation strives to be pro-active in creating healing plans to deal with the deep wounds inflicted on its members.
“But without adequate funding, the community is in a state of crisis, once more,” said the statement.
Frogg is expected discuss his community’s suicide crisis during a press conference Thursday in Ottawa with Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and NDP MP Charlie Angus.
-Editor’s note: Story was updated to identify Eric Morrissette as spokesperson for Health Canada