Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Self-Governance Can Save Lives

“Not all Aboriginal communities experience youth suicide. ... 90 per cent of the suicides take place in just 10 per cent of B.C. communities.” (Honouring Life Network)

These were the findings by researchers Michael J. Chandler and Christopher E. Lalonde in 2008. They conclude:

“individual and cultural continuity are strongly linked, such as that First Nations communities that succeed in taking steps to preserve their cultural heritage culture, and that work to control their own destinies, are dramatically more successful in insulating their youth against the risks of suicide.”

In other words, there is a direct link between self governance and lower suicide rates.
What Can We Do?

I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with Stan Louttit of Neh Naak Ko in Moose Factory and one of the originators of the online educational resource, Path of the Elders.

During our conversation, it became clear that Mr. Louttit’s original goal of reconnecting Aboriginal youths with their elders had grown into a much larger project: one that has great ramifications for the future, particularly in the area of self-governance.

On the Path of the Elders is focused on the historical events leading up to Treaty no. 9, events which continue resonate in the present.

As Mr. Louttit remarked, “It’s about resource development. We need the community to understand what the treaty said about resources, and understand what goes into negotiating these types of agreements.

Think of all the wealth in Northern Ontario, coming from lands that Aboriginals thought they were looking after. Even today, there’s going to be more mines and hydro dams and exploration companies looking to stake claims. As Ontario moves towards green energy projects, all this is not going to go away – they’re going to be coming, so the better people understand their own treaties and their own communities, and understand the wider context and how it’s all tied into economics, the better off they will be.”

At a time when governments and companies are struggling to “go green”, northern Ontario remains a rich site for a multitude of natural resources. Today’s Aboriginal youths may very well be called upon in the near future to renegotiate those agreements concerning the use of their lands.

We need to start fostering negotiation and leadership skills in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youths to create the groundwork for a future based in self-governance, self-respect, and collaboration.


“Honouring Life Network,” July 7, 2009, (accessed March 9, 2010)

Chandler, Michael J. and Christopher E. LaLonde. “Cultural Continuity as a Protective Factor Against Suicide in First Nations Youth,” 2008, (accessed March 9, 2010)

Collette Jackson, Content and Marketing Specialist at BlackCherry Digital Media, is writing on behalf of On the Path of the Elders, a free online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, and the signing of Treaty No. 9.

On the Path of the Elders launches March 24, 2010. Check it out at

For more information, email us at

Created in partnership with the Mushkegowuk Cree, Carleton University, BlackCherry Digital Media, and Pinegrove Production.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy. Created with additional financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Inukshuk Fund.

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