Suicide claims another life at Pikangikum

In this remote community that has been called the suicide capital of the world, another young person has fallen prey to the “devil of suicide.”
Family, friends, and community members buried 15-year-old Cynthia Keeper yesterday in the backyard of her family home, as is the custom here, a simple wooden cross marking the site.
She hanged herself last Wednesday. Her body was discovered near the house by her uncle, Sherman Turtle.
Cynthia’s is the seventh suicide this year in this community of 2,100 near the Manitoba border, 300 km northeast of Winnipeg.
“I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I just cry,” said a grief-stricken Chief Louie Quill, who made a hasty departure from the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Halifax last week when he got the news.
The reserve on the Berens River has been traumatized by a suicide epidemic in the past decade. Last year, 13 people killed themselves, including four who joined a suicide pact involving seven 13-year-old girls.
Aggravating the tension has been a battle with federal officials, who moved in May to put the band’s finances into third-party management.
The band has refused, saying audits in the past two years have shown the books to be in order.
The dispute closed the school, where 30 teachers taught 700 children, in mid-May, and has curtailed many programs aimed at young people as well as student jobs.
There are few opportunities for young people on the reserve, whose tiny, ramshackle homes–almost all without running water–can house 10 people spanning four generations.
Alcohol abuse and gas-sniffing by youngsters are endemic.
Yesterday afternoon, about 300 residents filled the spacious church to say farewell to Cynthia, nicknamed “Squirrel.”
A three-hour service was led in Ojibwe by Pastor Robert Moose of Pikangikum. Cynthia was a shy girl but “very bright,” said Bonnie Jean Muir, a non-native who delivers community programming for Northern College.
Two members of a Health Canada counselling team from Sioux Lookout joined about 30 people who watched as Cynthia’s casket was lowered into the grave. The site, sloping to the river, is idyllic but a stone’s throw from an outhouse.
A wooden cross was hammered into Cynthia’s grave. It does not bear her name.