Edmonton students send messages of hope to Attawapiskat youth after suicide attempts

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WATCH ABOVE: A group of Edmonton students is reaching out to youth on the Attawapiskat First Nation. The northern Ontario community has been gripped by a suicide emergency. As Shallima Maharaj explains, students at the Edmonton Islamic Academy hope a seemingly small gesture will make a major impact. – Apr 22, 2016

EDMONTON — A group of Edmonton students wants the young people of Attawapiskat to know they’re not alone after a rash of suicide attempts on the northern Ontario First Nation.

Grade 5 students from the Edmonton Islamic Academy spent time making cards this week containing messages of hope and support for the people of Attawapiskat.

“I would never be able to imagine exactly what they’re feeling right now,” 10-year-old Sally Ghanen said. “I’m hoping that will give them that idea that we’re supporting them and that they’re not alone and we care about them.”

On the front of her card, Ghanen drew a picture of two hands holding on to each other. She said the picture represented the fact that even though the children of Attawapiskat are nearly an entire country away from Edmonton, they’re all an important part of Canada.

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“We’re all one nation and one day we will come together to build an even more amazing country.”

Inside the card, Ghanen drew a picture of a heart with “Idle no more” written next to it. She also wrote a message of hope.

“We all care about you. You are a part of us and you always will be. Hope, support, love is what you have from us.”

Attawapiskat, a community of 2,000 on the west shore of James Bay in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency earlier this month amid a suicide emergency.

Eleven people in the community tried to kill themselves on Saturday, April 9. After calling the state of emergency, officials prevented a suicide pact by 13 aboriginal youth, including a nine-year-old, after they were overheard making plans to kill themselves.

READ MORE: Attawapiskat in state of emergency after 11 suicide attempts on Saturday; nearly 100 since August

Chief Bruce Shisheesh said the First Nation had five more suicide attempts on Friday, April 15. This March, the Cree community saw 28 young people try to take their own lives.

Learning about First Nations people is a big part of the curriculum in Chantel Rowley’s Grade 5 class in Edmonton. She said her students approached her about doing something for the young people in Attawapiskat.

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“My children really had heavy hearts. The students asked, ‘What can we do?’ They wanted to talk about it,” she said.

Rowley said the class had a good discussion about the challenges faced by the remote community and “beautiful things came out of it.”

“The one question was, ‘What do we do? What can we do? How can we help?'” Rowley said.

READ MORE: Attawapiskat: 13 kids taken to hospital over fears of ‘suicide pact’

The cards were put in the mail Friday after school.

“This isn’t a problem that’s going to be fixed right away, but if they get those cards, my kids will know they’ve done what they could do and hopefully it brings a smile to the children’s faces in Attawapiskat.”

Two Attawapiskat residents, one of them a 13-year-old girl, have killed themselves in the past several months, giving the community a suicide rate of 100 per 100,000 people. The Canadian rate is 11.3.

The most recent state of emergency is Attawapiskat’s fifth since 2006.

A Nishnawabe Aski Nation crisis response unit was sent to the community earlier this month. Minister of Health Jane Philpot told Global News that two mental health counsellors were also being sent along with that team.

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With files from Anna Mehler Paperny, Patrick Cain and Katie Scott, Global News.

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