Report on Aboriginal youth suicides in Alberta – more resources are needed

Edmonton…The Alberta Provincial Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has completed an Investigative Review regarding the suicides of seven Aboriginal youth in 2013 and 14 and is calling for the government to put more resources toward reversing the epidemic of Aboriginal youth suicide.

“Action on this issue is long overdue,” stated Del Graff, Provincial Child and Youth Advocate in a newly released report.

Over 18 months between June 2013 and December 2014, seven Aboriginal young people from different communities died by suicide. Each of these young people was receiving services from Child Intervention Services when they passed away, or had received services within two years of their death.

“Their deaths by suicides are heartbreaking and focuses attention on what can only be described as a terrible tragedy that is occurring among Aboriginal young people,” the report states.

The Advocate examined the lives and circumstances of Asinay, Cedar, Sage, Morley, Kari, Victoria and Jacob as part of a broader review, with the goal of attempting to understand the high rate of youth suicide faced by Aboriginal peoples, families and communities. (The names were changed to protect the identities of the individuals.)

The results of the investigation are published in a newly released report “Toward a better tomorrow.”

 “We must work harder to support Aboriginal young people at risk for suicide,” stated Graff.  “I sincerely hope this report moves Governments and community leaders to make the issue of Aboriginal youth suicide a greater priority, and to devote the resources and support to address it effectively.”

The deaths of these seven teens were grouped together because of the common factors identified in their lives.

“Each young person’s life was marked by a pattern of complex trauma due to exposure to parental addictions and family violence,” Graff wrote.

“Some of these children were exposed to suicidal behaviours. Most were identified as having emotional disturbances. Most experienced numerous placement moves.”

The Ministers of Human Services, Education, Indigenous Relations and the Associate Minister of Health issued the following statements in response to the Child and Youth Advocate’s Special Report on Aboriginal Youth Suicide:

“The stories of these young people are heartbreaking and are reflective of some very uncomfortable realities of our society,” stated Irfan Sabir, Minister of Human Services. “I am grateful for the Advocate’s comprehensive work in bringing such a critical issue to light, and his recommendations for addressing this issue and preventing future tragedies. We will take the needed time to review the report’s recommendations, and will work with the Advocate, my colleagues, the federal government, and our Indigenous partners to implement the Advocate’s recommendations and ensure we are there for Indigenous youth.”

“We offer our sincere condolences to everyone who has been affected by these needless tragedies and we will do our part in Alberta’s schools to prevent them as best we can,” added David Eggen, Minister of Education. “My ministry will take the recommendations of the Child and Youth Advocate seriously and we will work with school authorities and other partner groups to develop and implement school-based suicide-prevention programs. We will work to ensure students living on and off reserve are offered all the learning opportunities and support services they need.”

“This is an enormous tragedy that Indigenous people face far too often,” added Richard Feehan, Minister of Indigenous Relations. “As a social worker for 35 years, I’ve witnessed the effects of suicide on families and communities. We need to pay attention to the causes and work together with Indigenous Albertans to find ways to address this complex problem.”

“By sharing these tragic stories, and using them to help all of us see where we failed these young people, the Child and Youth Advocate honours their memories,” concluded Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health.

“We are taking the Advocate’s recommendations to heart and will work with Alberta’s Indigenous communities to build a better understanding of how we can support their children and youth.”

A copy of the Investigative Review and recommendations are available at:

The recommendations are as follows:

  1. The Alberta government should establish a provincially funded suicide prevention strategy that supports the development and implementation of community-led strategies. The strategy should include aboriginal people having a meaningful role.
  2. The government should act on ways to improve provincial services and systems to support community-led strategies to address Aboriginal youth suicide.
  3. Aboriginal youth who have lost someone close to them to suicide should receive deliberate and proactive support from Alberta Human Services.
  4. Alberta Human Services should review child intervention case practice to ensure that intervention is focused on the child’s needs.
  5. The Ministry of Human Services should ensure that case practice reflects a strength-based approach that focuses on the attachment needs of children while ensuring that their risk for harm is addressed.
  6. Alberta Education should develop and implement school-based suicide prevention programs. Consideration should be given to developing a peer support component.
  7. Alberta Mental Health Services should ensure that cultural components are incorporated in treatment strategies for young people.
  8. The Government of Alberta should ensure that mental health programs are more accessible, holistic and readily available in First Nations communities.
  9. The Ministries of Human Services, Education and Health, along with their service delivery partners, should require that professionals working with aboriginal young people have enhanced suicide intervention training.
  10. The Ministries of Human Services, Education and Health, along with their service delivery partners, should require that professionals working with Aboriginal Peoples have adequate training regarding the pre and post-colonial history specific to aboriginal Peoples so that they have a good understanding of the potential risks, strengths and needs with Aboriginal families.
  11. Alberta Human Services should review the Delegation Training for Suicide Intervention Skills and ensure that it contains information about the need for culturally-relevant resources and how caseworkers can access them.
  12. The Government of Alberta should support increased levels of self-determination of First Nations in Alberta through reconciliation processes in partnership with First Nations, federal and provincial governments. Consideration should be given to greater levels of self-determination regarding child intervention balanced with support as a protective factor for suicide prevention.



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