ATTAWAPISKAT – A supportive military youth program is up and running in the First Nation of Attawapiskat, which has recently faced a tragic spate of attempted suicides.
Many members of the community of 2,000 began their annual two-week break this week to hunt migrating geese and provide their families with traditional food over the summer months. Those involved in the hunt travel by snowmobile to the many hunting camps scattered along the James Bay coast. They harvest the geese as they fly north, smoke them, and consume them as part of their traditional diet.
But many families are unable to participate in the hunt for a variety of reasons, such as not owning a snowmobile or hunting equipment.
Local school board officials, concerned that many vulnerable youth would be left with little to do in the community during the hunt, spoke to members of the Attawapiskat Canadian Ranger patrol about their concern. The Canadian Rangers are part-time army reservists in the north.
“The Rangers contacted us,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, commanding officer of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at CFB Borden, which commands the Canadian Rangers in northern Ontario. “It was clear that many families will be out of Attawapiskat for the spring hunt but there will be a whole bunch of kids who are left in the community and they need something to do during a difficult time with so many attempted suicides.”
In the past two months the community has experienced more than 40 attempted suicides with most of them involving youth.
Attawapiskat has a local Junior Canadian Ranger patrol, an army program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across Canada’s north. They receive regular visits from army instructors who provide them with a range of training activities with an emphasis on safety on the land and water and in their personal life styles.
Colonel Richardson said It was decided, at the request of the school board, to advance the scheduled training for the Junior Canadian Rangers in Attawapiskat, conduct it during the two week hunt, and make it available to not only the Junior Canadian Rangers but to all other youth in the community.
“Over the next two weeks we’ll provide a variety of activities,” Colonel Richardson said. “We got started last night with a sports night in the local community centre. We want to get the word out that what we are doing is not just for the Junior Canadian Rangers. It’s for any interested youth. We’re making the program available to all youth in Attawapiskat. This a joint effort by the local Canadian Rangers with the school board.
“We’ll do as many traditional activities as we can. We’ll do some camp site selection and then we’ll have day excursions on the land and some overnight activities. We have two army instructors in the community who will run the activities.
“Once we have things underway we’ll have more conversation with the school board and the chief and council.”
Colonel Richardson met yesterday with Chief Bruce Shisheesh and spoke with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and local NDP MP Charlie Angus when the two federal politicians paid a brief visit to Attawapiskat.
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at CFB Borden.)