No state of emergency on Alberta First Nation reeling from number of suicides - APTN NewsAPTN News

No state of emergency on Alberta First Nation reeling from number of suicides

Luwen Soosay died by suicide two days before Christmas. He was 22.

Martha Troian
APTN Investigates
Maskwacis is reeling after several people died by suicide in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.

There have been eight deaths since late November, all of them between the ages of 15-32, according to some community members.

The epidemic appears to be continuing into the New Year with one suicide attempt taking place as of Jan. 8.

“It seems suicide plagues us,” said Samson Cree Nation band councillor Katherine Swampy in a Facebook message to APTN Investigates.

Samson Cree Nation is one of four communities that make up Maskwacis, located about 95 kilometres south of Edmonton, Alta.

In fact, in the time APTN Investigates communicated with Swampy on Jan. 8, she has since wrote her own sister had attempted suicide and was rushed to hospital.

Swampy said she already lost a brother-in-law to suicide four years ago. He was 21-years-old.

“Our people have a sense of hopelessness, they struggle to survive far below the poverty line, our housing is in the poorest of conditions, our community lacks available employment,” she said.

“Samson has eight thousand people with roughly five hundred jobs available, our people struggle to put food on the table. Life on the reserve is hard, and many of our community members are faced with racism when they try to better their lives and leave the reserve.”

Watch APTN’s Chris Stewart’s report from Alberta


A state of emergency will not declared

For years, Maskwacis have been grappling with poverty, gangs and often highly-publicized violence.

Several community members are pleading for change on social media, asking for the chief and council to call a state of emergency, given the number of deaths since late November.

“We’re not going to declare a state of an emergency yet,” said Chief Vernon Saddleback, Chief of Samson Cree Nation. “It’s tragic. Every one of them are tragic. I’d like to have zero losses.”

Chief Vernon Saddleback.

Chief and council recently met with the community’s department heads to work together in addressing the community’s needs. Saddleback said he would like to work with the existing resources before reaching out to government.

A spokesperson with Health Canada said in a statement the Maskwacis Health Centre receives funding for counselling and for a variety of mental health programs and that “Health Canada’s Mental Wellness team has been in regular contact with Maskwacis Health Services. Maskwacis Health Services is addressing community mental wellness needs and is not currently requesting additional resources.”

“The Government of Canada acknowledges that the health issues facing Indigenous communities across the country, including high suicide rates among youth and limited access to mental health supports in rural, remote and isolated communities are serious and unacceptable,” the statement said in part.

Walk for life vigil planned

Sherry Greene, a concerned Samson Cree Nation community member who now lives in Edmonton, is planning a Walk for Life Candle Vigil as a way to acknowledge and support grieving community members and families. The vigil will take place at the community’s friendship centre on Jan 13.

“We’ve been in crisis for decades.” she said. “As far (back) as I can remember.”

Greene wants the Samson Cree Nation leadership declare a state of emergency given all the recent deaths which she attributes to hurt and pain from intergenerational residential school trauma.

“In my own family, we have intergenerational trauma and it goes down to the very great-grandchildren of my mother,” she said.

Emily Soosay, a mother-of- four, will be just one of the many community members expected to attend the vigil.

Her son, Luwen Melvin Dayon Soosay, 22, died by suicide just two days before Christmas.

He left behind an 18-month old baby daughter.

Soosay told APTN Investigates that her family has had their share of trauma. Her grandmother, mother and aunts and uncles all attended residential school and her family has suffered everything from gangs, violence to sexual assault.

“He was raped when he was a child,” said Soosay of her son Luwen, who was also in the child welfare system from the ages of six to 13-years-old.

“I was in a gang and he was just starting life,” wrote Soosay in a Facebook message about how her son was sexually abused at the age of 13.

Soosay would also like to see chief and council declare a state of emergency.

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13 Responses to “No state of emergency on Alberta First Nation reeling from number of suicides”

    Tabby Sabo January 17, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

    The government has for a long time wanted the First Nations people’s land. The First Nations people never needed the white man to survive. They were strong hunters and lovers of the land …but then the government set in to destroy the people for their own greed .
    They took the youth children away so that they would learn to be dependent on the state.

    They told their culture, the forciable sterilized many .
    So what better way of forcing the First Nations land by having very limited resources. The children in residential schools were not taught how to live off the land . They tried to destroy the First Nations spirit through Ailenation from their culture , families and communities, by removing them from families and raping and abusing and murdering them .

    So yes the government wants the First Nations to fail or they would be spending millions locally rather than to foreign countries in similar situations.
    Open source ecology permaculture, recreating what the government tried to destroy …The permiculturist and elders, medicine women , teachers , who remember the old ways need to teach the people to not need the government for anything .

    Kbc January 15, 2018 at 12:22 am #

    They should start by making it a dry four nations ban those who bring drugs to the community also gang members !!!

    Patricia Beaulac January 14, 2018 at 6:44 pm #

    I agree with their Chief, Vern Saddleback, this is not a state of emergency, this did not happen over night, and it will not be solved overnight.
    but the community must do better, love one another. and help one another. Love themselves. The poverty must end, and it must happen on the reserve. The elders and leaders must make change and teach their children to work for change. Refuse to live without hope. it is catch 22 – stay and no work starve…leave and their is no support. This has to change. Money is not the answer. Self worth is so important. Go to school expect big things, then there is no work, no money, no food, There are cheap drugs, Get back to basics. Mothers and Fathers, raise your own children. it does not take a community, it takes a Mother and Father that care for their young and want the very best for them. Your children are learning from you! Hold yourself accountable. They watch you and the want to do like you.

    Help the meek, love your brothers, Get help for their addictions, Remove the gangs, Lift their hearts and minds to a higher purpose and Don’t accept less..Cry out to the injustice. Work together for each others good Be part of a proud Tribe. Look to your creator and pray in the name of his son Jesus. Jesus will break the chains and give you the path to follow.

    Terri January 14, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

    I agree with ‘A’.. all community members need to be heard, respected no matter their issues. Devaluing one another and other humans is what is intended as far back as Residential Schools. Wake up! The Fed’s intentions for destroying the ‘Indian’ is alive an well just masked. Band together my people, strength in unity!! Unite!

    A January 14, 2018 at 3:09 am #

    This tragedy is an epidemic. I don’t think anyone knows how to deal with it in the proper manner. Residential schooling does play a part, but the actions of those who make a choice , be it addictions, incest, rape domestic violence, are also not blameless. It has to start with the people themselves, the realization that they DO matter, that everyone is created equally and racism is a two way door. It swings both ways. And not everyone who were in residential schools were mistreated. I hesitantly asked a Cree friend what it was like for her. Her answer bowled me over because I was given the impression that all the schools were abusive. But no…she loved her school and was very happy there….it was a non-Catholic school. I do not know if that made a difference or not. None of this negates the seriousness of the situation. Money is not the answer either. A billion dollars will only enable, not solve the problems. People have to be made feel worthy, respected, loved. I know there are attempts to do this in Maskwacis…but is there any support from the upper echelon?
    I cannot answer this…maybe others can.

    J Hunter January 12, 2018 at 4:14 pm #

    One idea could be to investigate/determine if community supports are reaching those in need (youth) by talking to the families and friends involved (when appropriate and in a good way) and create a multipronged community plan based on where gaps are.

    Sharon January 12, 2018 at 3:00 am #

    To add: forget the blame game of the authorities. Work out a plan together as they too cannot do anything without the people’s help and don’t ask the Band Council to do something, get out and work your own salvation.
    Harsh criticism does no good to anyone.

      Lyle Bruno January 12, 2018 at 10:41 pm #

      Which chief and council of which there are 4, which bright spot came up with that ?

    Sharon January 12, 2018 at 2:58 am #

    I would think that there is more than just learning to love themselves from what I have read altho that is a very important point.
    I recall when I sat on Council, our Band Administrator at that time postulated that if we improve the living conditions of the people they would feel self-worth and some would characteristically improve.
    According to the information, one would have to work on all levels and to instate security by those who care to stand by the ones who feel intimidated by gangs and drug lords leaving them (esp. the young) free to choose what they want in life.
    Getting the education system in line would be another problem to handle as, if the students don’t feel that they are worth teaching, then they won’t bother trying.
    Re-establishing the culture among the people would be beneficial in helping them to re-identify with who they are and their pride.
    It sounds like there is much to be done but it is up to those still standing to show them, someone cares and is willing to stand behind them and work with them.
    Take a stand against everything that would harm the soul of the vulnerable is not an easy step, especially when it comes to one’s own family but doing nothing, one may as well not bother complaining.
    Put on your war bonnets. We fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Only then will you see reasonable change.
    When our community couldn’t bury our members before another one died, the elders, grandparents, and concerned individuals got together, asked the young people what they would like to see to improve their lives, they made a stand and started working towards an indoor swimming pool.
    You need to show you care. Maybe not on such a grandiose level, but on some level that shows you are sincere.

      Tammt January 12, 2018 at 9:23 am #

      That is so beautifully written and many valid points. Insight to bettering the over all community in many ways. I even thought of my community reading this. Love this statement

    Frank Molley January 11, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

    APTN, tackle this please, more insight, more epic reporting and let’s tackle these issues unwaivering.

      Shannon January 11, 2018 at 10:18 pm #

      THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE TAUGHT TO LOVE THEMSELVES, it’s something we were all robbed of a hundred years ago, and respect themselves….. THIS, is the ripple effect the Government has left us with to deal with on our own….we carry a lot of hatred and disappointment inside

        Brenda January 12, 2018 at 10:06 am #

        Idle minds make for … obviously dangerous situations. Give the children some creative challenges…a purpose outside of themselves…why not learn how to build tiny homes and sell them…or do an extreme sport challenge..who can run a 42 in marathon then bike another half marathon and then swim 5… Takes training and support and education and focus …1st prize.. a vacation anywhere in Canada??? Push the walls down and get creative..