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Date: Fri, 14 Aug 98 00:56:30 CDT
From: SISIS@envirolink.org (S.I.S.I.S.)
Article: 41135
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.9271.19980815181516@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Reserve wrestles epidemic of suicides

Canadian Press, 9 August 1998

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 Police Service.

Almost everyone in the community, 145 kilometres northeast of Brandon, has relatives or close friends who have committed suicide in recent months. The hurt is there in the total community, said Chief Nelson Bunn. Everyone is affected by the numerous deaths weve had.

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 band. 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 reserves. 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 suicidal. 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 process. Nobody's had an opportunity to grieve because theres been so many deaths in the community.