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Canada: Year of Youth ends with alarming suicide rates among young indigenous peoples

October 19 2011
"Our Nation is thrust into a constant and persistent grief making daily tasks a burden on everyone." says letter to the UN from the Pikangikum First Nation. Read the letter below.

Pikangikum First Nation

Pikangikum, Ontario POV 2L0

Tel. No.: 807-773-5578 / 773-5523

Fax No.: 807-773-5536

October 12, 2011

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General – United Nations
Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary- General for
Economic and Social Affairs
2 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017



On 1 February 2010, the General Assembly declared via a resolution that starting on the 12th of August 2010 until 12 of August 2011 would by the International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. The resolution called on member states to take advantage of the Year to build national, regional and international levels to promote the youth. These are very lofty and admirable goals for the future of young people. We are writing this letter to your offices to assist us – the indigenous Peoples of Pikangikum. We are a Treaty Peoples as recognized in the study done by Miguel Alfonso-Martinez, who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Treaties. His study was completed in 1989. In order to put our issue in context, we will provide a short history of our Indigenous Peoples from Pikangikum.

Our peoples made Treaty with the British Crown to share our lands and resources. In return, we were to receive certain treaty rights for as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. On a daily basis, the state of Canada benefits from our lands and resources. We do not get our due. As a result, we are living in fourth world conditions in a first world state. We have no access to fresh drinking water, no sewage, inadequate housing, poor access to education, health and other necessities of life. Let us give a small snapshot: there are 450 homes in the community for 2,400 residents that leads to overcrowding. In addition, 340 homes have no running water. The school government buildings and 43 homes are connected to a sewage lagoon. We have to collect our water from distribution posts and carry it home. Since the 3rd of October 2011, we had to declare four states of emergency due to the lack of potable and running water. There is diesel generated power. We do not like to refer to our living conditions when we live in a rich territory but that is the fact of our lives. These hopeless and desperate conditions have resulted in many suicides among our youth. In the years 2006-2009, there were 16 children between the ages of 10-19 who died as a result of suicide. The Chief Coroner's office in Ontario requested a review of the youth suicides in Pikangikum. This report was completed and submitted to the Chief Coroner on 1 June 2011.

We are sad to report that since 15 July 2011, Pikangikum has lost another seven of our young people to suicide.These are our future generations who have lost their will to live. Our Nation is thrust into a constant and persistent grief making daily tasks a burden on everyone. We are reaching out to the United Nations for assistance. Our Nation needs to be able to see a future for our children. We have noted that the United Nations has developed a comprehensive work plan entitled: "Growing Together - Youth and the Work of the United Nations." We are encouraged that the United Nations has pulled together the resources in all departments and sectors within the United Nations on youth. We are submitting a copy of this letter to the World Health Organization for their assistance.

During the International Year of the Youth, there were no programs for our youth. There was no planning by the state of Canada to assist our youth. When our Youth attempted to access funds to assist them, there was no program or services for them. Our First Nation is not alone in dealing with the crisis amongst our youth. We cannot do it alone. We did not cause this situation alone. When our forefathers concluded treaties with the British Crown, these treaties were to last. Canado emerged from the British Commonwealth as a treaty successor state. As a treaty successor state, there are obligations owed to us. We have not benefitted as Canada has benefitted from our lands and territories. The young people can see this situation. We need international assistance. The different Special Rapporteurs in different areas: Water, housing, Right to enjoyment of life and Indigenous Peoples should work together to write a report on Pikangikum. It is a terrible legacy of living within a first world state that does not recognize our rights.

Finally, we are addressing the letter to the Under-Secretary-General who has the portfolio for the United Nations Programme on Youth. We note that the Under-Secretary has the mandate to help identify any gaps that may exist in the United Nations system. We have identified a major gap that needs your assistance. We would be pleased to invite these Special Rapporteurs to do an onsite visit to witness our situation and make a report that will enable us to plan for the future generations. We await your response.

Yours truly,

Gordon Peters, A Signatory to Treaty 5

cc: Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH) - WHO 22 Avenue
Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Fax 41 22 791 4853
Special Rapporteur James Anaya - Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Special Rapporteur Ms. Catarine de Albuquerque - Water
Special Rapporteur Mr. Anand Grover - Enjoyment of highest standard of Health
Special Rapporteur on Housing