Suicide Among the Innu and Storytelling as Counterbalance

The power of the transmission of trauma, even when it’s secret — with no words — that recipe of loss without healing, is part of many suicides.

Between two sister Innu First Nations communities near Sept-Îles, Quebec, five Innu committed suicide within nine months of each other. Some were the first in their families to commit suicide, while others were the third or fourth in their families to commit suicide. In all, there were sixteen suicide attempts and over a hundred incidents that required residents to obtain psychological counseling in 2015 alone. Residential Magazine has a two-part longform journalistic essay they published this past March which chronicles the stories of those who committed suicide as well as looking at the lives of those left behind to pick up the pieces. 

The article points out two pervasive themes when it comes to these suicides: colonization and residential schools. Involvement in traditional ceremonies is offered as one counterbalance to suicide among Indigenous youth. A second counterbalance is storytelling:

“Maybe some are carrying more than their share. “It takes courage to open up about the sex abuse in the residential schools. “Sometimes, it’s a suicide (or an attempt) that will bring the family to a healing,” he says. “But you cannot force healing in a family that’s been adapting to unresolved trauma for generations — it’s become a powerful process in itself.” Among the best of antidotes for such deep wounds is storytelling, or intergenerational transmission of knowledge, he added. Lalonde, the psychologist who specialized in First Nations suicides, agrees.

Elders sharing their stories, activities and traditions with youth can be a powerful anti-suicide tool, he says, even among communities affected by typical disadvantages including poverty, high dropout rates and overcrowding. “Some communities are better able to resist colonization, and those that can, fare better in terms of youth health and suicide,” Lalonde says. “If you want to intervene, you don’t need a suicide prevention program parachuted in from Ottawa.

We are a creative people, so a creative expression of our pain and trauma serve as a release of our suppressed issues which helps us to heal as well as offer insights and help to others who may feel like us. Storytelling alongside community involvement and other positive relationships work together to instill value, hope, and "togetherness" in the lives of people.

Read the first part of the series here and the second part here.