sparvier-suicide

 

Pamela Sparvier stands next to the clothesline pole in her backyard in Regina where, at only 16 years old, her brother Darren committed suicide after hanging himself with a power drill cord and rope.

Darren is actually Pamela’s uncle. She was raised by her grandparents after her mom died in a car accident when she was only one. She refers to Darren as her brother and her grandparents as mom and dad. And Darren isn’t the first brother she’s lost to suicide. 

When Sparvier was only five, her 18-year-old brother Ricky committed suicide at their home on Kahkewistahaw First Nation before they moved into the city.

“We were sitting around the table…he said he was going outside to shoot some dogs that kept coming around the house bothering us. We heard a shot. Next thing we know my sister Shane comes crying and my parents looked out the window and he (had) shot himself out by our shed.”

Sparvier’s story, while tragic, is sadly not unique.

Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth (according to Health Canada). The suicide rates for Inuit youth are even higher at 11 times the national average.

Wanting to confirm whether or not the statistics were accurate, I stopped by the Aboriginal Student Centre at the University of Regina one day during lunch and asked the 10 students and staff there if they knew an Aboriginal youth who had committed suicide.

All of them put up their hand except one person. But that one person said he did know of some youth who had overdosed on drugs.

Shane Keepness, a student at the U of R, lost one of his friends to suicide in highschool.

“One of my good buddies in my grade 12 year of school committed suicide during the school year. No one was really aware that he was going to. He just kind of did it out of nowhere.”

Sparvier says her family also never knew why her brothers committed suicide, since neither of them left suicide notes.

Marcia Ernest is a community support worker for the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy in Meadow Lake. She says the reasons behind why anyone commits suicide are different for each person, but there do seem to be some commonalities in suicides among Aboriginal youth.

“There are so many contributing factors as to why the rates are higher. Drugs, alcohol, relationships, lack of understanding, family dysfunction, abuse- many of the same factors that contribute to, say, alcohol or drug abuse.”

Sparvier agrees with Ernest and says her family has some guesses as to why her brothers killed themselves.

“Relationship problems. Alcoholism. Hopelessness. They thought they had no way out. You don’t talk to people at school. You don’t talk to teachers. You don’t talk to anyone.”

Ernest says that part of the difficulty in dealing with Aboriginal youth suicide is that there is not a lot of reliable, comprehensive information available yet on the issue, beyond national statistics.

“Stats can be collected from, say, health care providers or therapists or hospitals but they’re all recorded in different ways from each of these places so it’s hard to accurately record. We’ve discussed in our region how to get accurate stats (including) suicide attempts because they’re just as important for tracking.”

Beyond having more research and statistics, Ernest says the first steps toward bringing down the suicide rates are education and awareness. Involving the youth and asking them what sort of programs or supports they would like to see is also vital.

“Suicide is something that’s not talked about in some communities and in some families it’s taboo- like talking about sex. We need to be involving our youth and some people say ‘our youth are our future’ but they don’t listen to them really. I think honoring that statement in our communities will make a great big difference.”

For Sparvier and her family, any changes will be too late to save her brothers. Since losing them, she has also suffered through her own suicide attempts but continues to try and work through her grief.

“It’s very difficult. You try and think their thoughts and think why did they have to do that or what caused them to do that to themselves.”

As for what will happen if more is not done to prevent and deal with Aboriginal youth suicides in communities, Ernest has only one thing to say.

“The same thing that’s been happening all these years will keep happening. We’re going to keep losing our Aboriginal youth.”

Read more about this story on my blog: www.mynews23.blogspot.com

 photo: Cassandra Opikokew

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