Brother and sister launch national website to address high suicide rates of indigenous youth

Ulukhaktok Youth. | Photo courtesy of Kelvin Redvers

Ulukhaktok Youth. | Photo courtesy of Kelvin Redvers

Suicide rates in Canada, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, are significantly higher for aboriginals (males: 126; females: 35) than non-aboriginals (males: 24; females: five) who are between the ages of 15 to 24. 

Due to the sense of hopelessness in many communities and high suicide rates in Aboriginal communities, siblings Kelvin and Tunchai Redvers, who grew up in the Northwest Territories and belong to the Dinnu Kue First Nation, decided to form a national multi-media campaign called We Matter to create a library of positive messages directed at the youth in crises.

“With a lack of funding, in comparison to the general Canadian population, Aboriginal youth are not receiving adequate levels of education or health and social services – as well, they often face issues such as racism and a lost sense of identity. From residential schools to inadequate funding and services, to forced adoptions and foster care, to a denial of existence as people in Canada, Aboriginal youth have been made to feel they do not matter. This is where the We Matter Campaign can make a difference,” says Kelvin, a Vancouver-based First Nations filmmaker, Jack Webster awards recipient and film graduate from Simon Fraser University.

Overcoming obstacles

The Redvers recorded videos of about 20 indigenous role models across the country to speak to youth in crises. Each video is about two to three minutes in length. The role models range from everyday people to those who are in power or have an influential role, including writer Joseph Boyden and Ottawa-based music band A Tribe Called Red. The videos speak of hope, resilience and perseverance.

“[The videos] will give insight into their own hardships and how they got past them. The message will be to remind Indigenous youth that their lives matter. Even if things are tough, there is hope for a better future. Struggles can be overcome,” says Tunchai, a graduate of International Development Studies from the University of Guelph.

Completed videos are launched on the We Matter campaign website and sharead through social media. The website allows aboriginal youth to upload their own videos to also address the youth in crisis as well as welcome other personal expressions, such as visual arts or written work.

Also included are health professionals and social workers who provide resources for the youth in crisis.

“One primary long-term initiative is the creation of a 24-hour national Indigenous crisis line – something that currently does not exist. Partnerships are already in the works to make this crisis line a reality,” explains Kelvin.

Community voice

The campaign features a vide from author Joseph Boyden. | Photo courtesy of Kelvin Redvers

The campaign features a vide from author Joseph Boyden. | Photo courtesy of Kelvin Redvers

The model is based on an American project for the LGBTQ community called It Gets Better to address teen suicides for that demographic. This campaign became viral nearly overnight, says Tanchai, who identifies as queer. Within a month, the project had 10 million views and had support from celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres and President Obama.

“With foresight gathered from the It Gets Better Project, as well as with advice from their team generously shared with us, we developed a plan to modify and expand this model to cater to the needs of Indigenous youth in Canada,” says Tanchai, who hopes this will be the first of future partnerships.

The idea for the campaign (here in Canada) started in May of this year. Since then, they have formed valuable partnerships and developed the website as well as started fundraising for the campaign.

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