Yesterday, I wrote about the death of former Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak, the third NHL “enforcer” to die by apparent suicide within in a short span of time.
Belak’s death is a wake-up call, and like many people, I hope he hasn’t died in vain. At least perhaps his death will lead to greater awareness of the perils of depression, head injuries, and stress among elite athletes.
Like the spate of recent tragic deaths in the NHL, this is a wake-up call. But while NHL players are high-profile athletes whose deaths will be publicly mourned, the youth of Pikangikum are seldom in the mass media; when they are it’s bad news.
I don’t know Pikangikum. I’ve never been there. I’ve been up North a bit, and I have tried to learn a little of what remote First Nations have to deal with. I have a lot to learn; we all do.
I spent a week in Mishkeegogamang in 2010 with ArtsCan Circle and I saw some of the issues the kids there have to handle. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s a situation whose roots run very deep. And it is very, very real.
There are signs of hope and healing (at least, there were in Mishkeegogamang) but there are also signs of hopelessness and despair. To find the hope, amid the hopelessness, is the gift of the strong. Young people have to be nurtured and inspired to achieve that kind of strength. When youth feel they have nothing to live for, the future is a bleak place indeed.
But if the deaths of three NHL players can lead to increased awareness about what their lives are like, surely to God the deaths of five youths on a Native reserve can lead to increased awareness about what their lives are like. And when people find out what their lives are like, and look beyond the statistics to the real stories about youth suicides, depression, gang activity, addiction and violence… something must change. Surely it must.
Surely the same people, myself included, who are calling for changes in hockey, will shout even louder for changes in the way we hear, and help Aboriginal youth at risk?
Please say we will, and please raise your voice to make it so. Because meanwhile in Pikangikum, there are too many kids with no time to lose. Unlike poor Wade Belak, you won’t see them in the morning paper til they become statistics, and that’s far too late.