06/22/2012 11:14 EDT | Updated 08/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba First Nation Suicides: Aboriginal Leaders Troubled By Rash Of Youth Suicides

WINNIPEG - Aboriginal leaders in Manitoba say five suicides in six weeks indicate levels of despair are rising among First Nations teens and young adults in the province.

From hotlines and outreach programs to drama workshops, suicide prevention workers are trying every resource they can to turn back the tide of despair.

A growing sense of urgency over youth suicide was a factor that motivated an Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs decision this week to let television cameras film a sacred pipe ceremony on National Aboriginal Day.

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says his people have been here thousands of years and it’s important that the public sees who they are.

He says it's also a message to young people that there's no need to hide.

One elder at the ceremony marked the occasion by talking about his two grandsons who hanged themselves within six months of each other.

Both teens, one 18 and one 16, were heavily addicted to prescription drugs, said elder Percy Houle.

Teenagers are reckless and they die because they don’t know they have anything to live for and nothing to give them pride, Houle said.

That’s got to change and it can if traditional customs are discussed and practiced more openly, Houle said.

“For 60 years, I carried this pipe in secret. No more. I’m bringing it out,” Houle said, gesturing to his pipe.

Elmer Courchene, another elder at the filming, said young people have a right to feel proud of their heritage but if they don’t see it, they won’t use it.

“The pipe is our life and it means everything to us. It’s been handed down for thousands of years and it is our connection to the Creator. It gives us direction that we can follow."

(Winnipeg Free Press)

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