Date: Fri, 14 Aug 98 00:56:30 CDT
From: SISIS@envirolink.org (S.I.S.I.S.)
Subject: CAN: RESERVE WRESTLES EPIDEMIC OF SUICIDES
BIRDTAIL SIOUX FIRST NATION, Man. (CP) - Some used pills. Others used rope. One man lay down on the railroad tracks and waited for a train to finish him off. More than 20 people have attempted suicide in the last 13 months at this small reserve in western Manitoba. Seven were successful.
Suicide rates are chronically higher among aboriginal Canadians than
the general population but the problem has reached epidemic
proportions at this reserve.
It's hard to keep track of them
after a while, said Const. Charles Jebb of the Dakota Ojibwa
Almost everyone in the community, 145 kilometres northeast of Brandon,
has relatives or close friends who have committed suicide in recent
The hurt is there in the total community, said Chief
Everyone is affected by the numerous deaths weve
Many suicides appear to be linked. One case last July happened on the same day that another band member was buried. Another band member ended his life by taking a lethal amount of pills less than two months after his common-law wife hanged herself.
Many Birdtail residents believe they live on the worst reserve in Manitoba. Many houses are falling apart as mould eats away at carpeting and drywall. One asthmatic woman and her two grandchildren live illegally in a home condemned by Health Canada.
Only a handful of Birdtail Sioux are employed by the
They're bringing in white guys from off the reserve to
build our houses when we dont have jobs, said Chris Benn, who
works part-time for the band as home and school co-ordinator.
Police say substance abuse is worse here than on nearby
Here there's nothing really to do. Theres a lack of
employment and people turn to alcoholism, said Jebb. There are no
school or sports teams on the reserve. The band's community hall
burned down a couple of years ago and could not be rebuilt because
there was no insurance money.
Birdtail isn't the first Dakota community to go through a suicide
crisis. In early 1996 a teenage boy took his own life and his best
friend did the same about a month later at Sioux Valley, about an
hours drive from Birdtail. At Sioux Valley, a crisis team was created
to identify band residents who needed counselling. A telephone hotline
was also set up to provide counselling to anyone feeling
I think a lot of kids survived because of the crisis
line, said Elizabeth Loane, child and family services co-ordinator
at Sioux Valley.
The Birdtail band is not as luckly. Some Birdtail residents say suicide victims were never offered counselling. The reserve set up a hotline like the one in Sioux Valley, but the line now goes unanswered because funding has run out. Birdtail residents also take their frustrations out on the chief, who they blame for failing to show leadership. Band members said they rarely see the chief and complain he did not attend any funerals for suicide victims.
Nelson Bunn was convicted of impaired driving last month and many
Birdtail Sioux said he should step down as chief. He spends his
weekends at a jail in Brandon, Man.
I don't think hes actually
doing anything, said Chris Benn.
The chief said he has been busy working to solve Birdtail's
problems with government officials in Winnipeg, but is now ready to
spend more time in the community to help with the healing
Nobody's had an opportunity to grieve because theres
been so many deaths in the community.