Ryerson University to help remote First Nation grappling with overcrowding and youth suicide

Ryerson University has scheduled a charity event to help a remote First Nation community in need.

Ryerson University students will raise money for a remote Ontario First Nation grappling overcrowded homes and youth suicide.

The event, slated for Mar. 3 at Ryerson’s Kerr Hall Gym, will feature live music performances by Indigenous artists and a documentary film screening. The evening is dedicated to the youth of Nibinamik First Nation, or summer Beaver, a community home to about 400 people.

The film, called Finding Our Power Together, also the name of the event, is the result of a partnership between Nibinamik and Ryerson which aims to generate hope for youth, said Judy Finlay, professor of child and youth care, who has visited this specific community about 15 times.

“It’s about them speaking about their experience in the community and suicide,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a preventative film, so it’s reaching out to other young people who find themselves in similar circumstances and to offer hope and solutions as opposed to more pain.”

Finlay travelled to Nibinamik last summer.

“I haven’t seen a community in crisis like that before, so we knew something had to change,” she said. “The youth were the ones speaking out really well, so they wanted to do the video. It’s their video.”

Of the entire event, she called it a “celebration of hope,” noting that the First Nation feels very isolated.

Finlay said about 21 people will be flown in from Nibinamik to attend the event, which will include Indigenous crafts, food and a silent auction.

Walter Oskineegish, the band manager of Nibinamik, which is roughly 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, said that, on average, four people live to a small home and called rashes of suicides and suicide attempts a “chain reaction” that afflict more than just his community.

Over about three years, he said roughly five youth took their own lives, circumstances he linked to a sore lack of health resources on-reserve.

Compounding the problem is a volatile environment. Last year, members of his community had to be evacuated to Kapuskasing after a spate of forest fires broke out near Nibinamik.

“We don’t have the programs,” he said. “We need facilities where (youth) can hangout or get educated,” adding that the problems the community faces are not isolated but found in many Northern Ontario First Nations.

Natasha Sugarhead, 22, who is a leader with Nibinamik Youth Empowerment council and featured in the documentary, said that she wants to raise awareness about her First Nation’s plight so that Canada can “hear our voices.”

“When we did that film, we talked about how suicide is not the answer,” she said. “We’re equal and every one of us matter.”

The event costs $20 and all proceeds will be contributed to the First Nation.

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