Indigenous youth in New Brunswick need more mental health support: report

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick gathered Tuesday to release their report to the province's Child and Youth Advocate.

No Child Left Behind is the report of one of three advisory councils in the province after the death of 16-year-old Lexi Daken last spring triggered a formal review from the advocate.

They assembled 13 calls to action for the province.

"It's life and death," said Roxanne Sappier, co-chair of the First Nation Advisory Council. "Any time we can hear of another one of our young people taking their life, or that feeling of hopelessness is there, it's present right now, so we need to take action."

The report calls for a review into gaps in mental health services for indigenous youth who, according to the report, are three times more likely to die by suicide than non-indigenous youth.

Chief Aaron Sock of Elsipogtog said he recently looked at a picture of his Grade 5 class, and eight of the 15 children -- five of the boys and three of the girls -- had died by suicide.

"In a class picture like that you realize half of your cohorts are gone. It really hits home," Sock said after pausing to contain his emotion. "I hope the 13 calls to action that have come out of that report produce some tangible results. There's been too many lives lost already."

The report also calls for transparency on the province's spending on mental health services as it relates to indigenous youth.

"We are looking at an improved process for engagement with government on these issues so the tripartite forum that is in call to action number four and in this mornings release the advocate is also committing to revamping and revitalizing our own processes for holding government accountable," said Christian Whalen, Senior Legal Counsel Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

Whalen says the report will be revisited at regular intervals with government to ensure action is being taken.

The 57-page report outlined the importance of traditional healing and the importance of cultural sense of belonging to mental health, and asked for the indigenous languages to be formally recognized by the province.

"Culture has everything to do with your protective factors as an individual if you know your language and your teachings and the land you come from and you have that spiritual strength within you built up that's resilience," Sappier said.

Tomorrow a broader report -- The Best We Have to Offer -- will be released from the child and youth advocate of New Brunswick.

With files from The Canadian Press.