Hello everyone! Aleria here! Today I thought I would do a short blog introducing you all to my Beauty With A Purpose project. I’m excited to share with you all what I’ve been working on, as it has been months in the making. Read on for more details!
The Indigenous Suicide Crisis
During the spring of 2016, Attawapiskat First Nation, located in Northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency after 11 youth attempted to commit suicide in one night, adding to the approximate 100 attempts made over the past 10 months, in a community of around 2,000 people. This is just one example of the suicide epidemic faced by multiple native communities within Canada. Many Indigenous youths agree that suicide is viewed as a normalized response to hopelessness. There are many contributing factors to what causes this feeling of hopelessness. Intergenerational trauma following residential school are still largely impacting communities and individuals today. In addition to this, many native communities suffer from a loss of language and culture due to colonization and other external factors. There also remain the issues of poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness. In many cases, there are not adequate funds, supports or resources for many of these Indigenous communities. All of these factors have an impact on the ever growing problem of suicide among Canada’s native people. There is also the added threat of suicidal contagion on many Indigenous reserves, because of the proximity of the residents and their shared social predicaments, known as the Werther Effect. This creates the possibility of suicide clusters, known to snowball into what can be described as an epidemic.
- Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age.
- Approximately 46% of all Indigenous children are under 25 years of age (Statistics Canada, 2012).
- The suicide rate for First Nations male youth (age 15-24) is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous male youth. (Health Canada, 2010)
- For First Nations females, the suicide rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to 5 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous females (Health Canada, 2010).
- Suicide rates for Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.
I was raised on the Six Nations reserve in southwestern Ontario. We are the most highly populated reserve in all of Canada, with approximately 25000 registered band members. The Haudenosaunee people include the Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Tuscarora, and Mohawk nations. I was blessed to have grown up surrounded by my people, culture, history, and language. Being immersed in my heritage taught me so much about myself, mother earth, and the land I call home. However, growing up on the reserve created problems for not only myself, but it’s other residents as well. Despite our rich culture and community, we still face extremely high rates of addiction, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and suicide. Growing up, I experience first hand the impact that suicide can have on a community. I attended multiple funerals for people who I went to school with, took dance classes with, or knew from the community. I also have had my share of struggles, having experienced mental illness, and having survived a suicide attempt when I was 17. I was lucky to have a support system and a mother who advocated for me and was aware of resources I could access, however, many of my peers were not as lucky. I had the chance to heal and grow, and I’ve been blessed that life has taken me places I couldn’t imagine since I was 17, but I still didn’t feel good knowing these problems existed and not doing anything about it. This is where RAY of Hope began.
RAY of Hope
For the past two years, I’ve been advocating for suicide prevention among Indigenous youth, and awareness of the Indigenous suicide crisis in Canada. This past spring, I facilitated the start of a youth suicide prevention committee on Six Nations. RAY of Hope (Remembering Aboriginal Youth) is a grassroots, by-youth-for-youth association with a mission of spreading a message of hope, life, and wellness through community, culture, language, and education. So far, we have released our website that offers information on us, community events, supports, and crisis resources. We are currently working hard on our launch campaign, details of which will be released soon. We also have two other projects in the works which will hopefully be announced sometime in the next few weeks. We have plans to continue our work in the coming year and hope to see our committee grow as time progresses.
Beauty With A Purpose
While my personal advocacy in suicide prevention has been carried over to my Beauty With A Purpose project, this is not the reason it has come to fruition. The Miss World Canada competition and the Beauty With A Purpose organization have simply given me the opportunity to advocate for my cause at a larger scale. Winning Miss World Canada would not only mean the chance to promote RAY of Hope at a national level, but to also bring this project to the international stage at Miss World. This is what I believe the Beauty With A Purpose program to truly be about. Giving women a platform to advocate for the things they are undoubtedly passionate about on such a wide scale. While many may believe that because Canada is a first world country with a reputation for peace, kindness, and prosperity, there is no hardship to be found in our society. I am here to say that this is not true. While we are an incredible country full of opportunity and beauty, there underlie the many problems our Indigenous populations face on a day to day basis and on an intergenerational scale. Miss World’s Beauty With A Purpose program would give me the chance to widen RAY of Hope’s focus to include Indigenous communities across Canada, as my reserve is not the only one facing high rates of suicide. The suicide crisis is not a problem that will be solved anytime in the near future, but I hope to do everything I can during my journey and create lasting change that will follow into the coming generations.
Thank you so much for reading! I can’t wait til nationals, only two more weeks til I head out to Toronto!
Til Next Time