Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day and, Canada, we have a problem. You have already heard the statistics – that suicide rates for Indigenous youth are five to seven times higher than for non-Indigenous young people. That they are, in fact, among the highest in the world. You've heard the heartbreaking stories of teenagers, children taking their lives. Attawapiskat. Pikangikum. Nibinamik. But here's what you most likely have not heard: the voices of Indigenous youth speaking for themselves – strong, resilient and full of hope. If we want to understand this crisis, and solve it, it's about time we listened.
Today, hearing those voices got a whole lot easier. As Canada and the world turns its attention to suicide prevention, We Matter – a social-media-driven, Indigenous-led organization – is partnering with Facebook Canada to put young Indigenous people at the centre of our national dialogue.
Inspired by the social campaign It Gets Better (targeting LGBTQ youth), and born in the wake of the Attawapiskat suicide crisis, We Matter is both a response and an antidote to the media coverage we are used to seeing about Indigenous youth and suicide.
Sadly, we've grown all too familiar with stories that paint a bleak picture of systemic trauma with no clear solutions. We've become numb to numbers that aren't capable of conveying what it actually feels like to lose a friend, a brother or a sister in this way. We've even grown used to the necessary and repeated demand for stronger government response and action.
What we rarely hear are the perspectives of Indigenous youth living with and fighting their way through this trauma. Indeed, the picture young Indigenous people see of themselves reflected back at them from the world – to the extent that one exists at all – is far from uplifting or empowering. It is generally the opposite.
This is both a shame and a serious gap, because it's not only their lives that are at stake, but it's their voices that hold the greatest hope for a solution. As a society, we will not end this problem without giving youth the tools they need to persist and stay strong. If there is one thing we have learned from our work at We Matter it's that, overwhelmingly, youth want to see and hear from each other more than anyone else on this issue. They are their own source of power.
That is the inspiration behind the #StrongerTogether video launched on Friday by We Matter and Facebook. Drawing on interviews from more than 20 Indigenous youth, the video poses two questions: When you're feeling sad and hurt, what do you do to feel better? When your friends are feeling sad and hurt, what can you do to help? The responses, striking in their simple honesty, normalize a conversation about suicide among youth whose voices are most needed and most effective in reaching peers who feel isolated by their pain.
Using Facebook as a launching pad was a strategic choice. Canada's Indigenous peoples are super-users of social media, and Facebook in particular. It's become a place where family and friends already connect across the vast distances that separate small and remote communities. We wanted to make it a place where Indigenous youth can carve out space for their own voices – where they can find and offer hope, and see that they are never alone.
There's the practical angle too. Geo-targeting enables the video to reach even the smallest and most remote communities. The video also shows viewers, who are likely watching on their Facebook feed, how to use the platform's safety tools to reach out to and support each other.
While Indigenous youth are undoubtedly the primary audience for this new video campaign, every Canadian should watch it. The ask is simple: Listen. Listen to what these young people are saying about how they've gotten through the darkness. Hear and understand their tremendous strength and capacity for resilience. They are the heroes of their own stories; they always will be. It's time the rest of us paid attention.
Kelvin Redvers and Tunchai Redvers started the We Matter campaign in 2016. The safety tools mentioned include the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line (1-855-242-3310), which is available toll-free, 24/7, in English, French and upon request in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut.