Content warning: This post deals with themes of depression and suicide.
It was summer last year when three girls from Wapekeka First Nation in Canada made a pact to end their lives.
Jenera Roundsky, Jolyn Winter and Chantel Fox were behaving like any other 12-year-old girls might. Telling secrets. Making promises. Urging each other on. But this was different. They weren’t talking about boys or teachers or annoying parents or growing up into adults. They were talking about suicide.
Now, three 12-year-old girls are dead and the remote village, where 40 other children are considered ‘at risk’ of suicide, has declared a “state of national emergency“.
In the winter, ice is everywhere and the main transportation is snow mobiles. In summer, the snow melts and people can walk around the village that sits at the shore of a lake, at the foot of the mountains.
Last summer, the town’s chief learned that Jenera, Jolyn and Chantel were planning to end their lives. A letter was written to the Canadian Government at the time.
“We had identified that several children were secretly planning suicide several months ago and we immediately applied for health funding to work with the children in preventing any suicides from happening,” Wapekeka spokesman Joshua Frogg said in a statement in January.
The government couldn't find the money and it was January 8 - a Sunday - when the first girl, Jolynn, died by suicide.
"Wake up, pretend I’m okay, sleep," was one of the last thoughts the 12-year-old posted to Facebook before her death.
Two days later Chantel suicided also.
Jenera, alongside a handful of other young people affected by the two deaths, was immediately flown out of the community for psychological help and 24-hour monitoring.
Jenera's body was found by her friend at a local hockey rink on Thursday evening.
"Our people are getting tired," Frogg told The Toronto Star. "We need help, boots on the ground, people properly trained to assess and determine and help as needed — we don’t need 11 and 12-year-olds on the front lines trying to save their friends."
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The three deaths are an echo of Wapekeka's dark history. Suicide was described as a 'epidemic' when 15 young people in the town of 400 took their lives between 1989 and 1990.
In the wider community - the 49 First Nations in norther Ontario - 500 people have died by suicide in the last 20 years.
Part of the reason (if reasons have anything to do with it) is paedophile Ralph Rowe, who targeted First Nations and molested an estimated 500 young boys. Rowe was convicted in 1994 and many of his victims went on to take their own lives. Though Wapekeka introduced a Survivors of Suicide program and hosted annual suicide prevention conferences, it's not been enough to stop the despair descending through generations.
In Canada, youths from indigenous communities are five or six times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous young people. These kids live through isolation, poverty, marginalisation, and in families and amongst friends who've seen suicide employed as a solution too many times over.
Jenera, Jolyn and Chantel should have been talking about school books and first crushes.
They could have been contemplating going to high school, leaving the village to attend a secondary school in another town.
They might have been wondering about their futures.
Complaining about their mother or their grandparents.
Comparing skills on the ice skating rink.
Making pacts to kill themselves should never have been a possibility. But now 40 other young people - almost 10 per cent of the town's population - is at risk of the same thing.
Finally, the government has stepped in, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing a plan to spend nearly $70 million over the next three years to improve Indigenous mental health services.
We are left with one question: how dark must things be for a child - or three young girls with their whole lives in front of them - to see no way out?
If you or a loved one is suffering with poor mental health, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.