Family wants inquest into Attawapiskat girl’s suicide

(Sheridan Hookimaw, 13. APTN/File)

Jorge Barrera
The family of Sheridan Hookimaw, a 13-year-old Attawapiskat girl who died by suicide, is seeking a coroner’s inquest to examine the circumstances that led to the tragedy.

Stephanie Hookimaw, the adoptive mother of Sheridan Hookimaw, recently sent a letter to Regional Coroner Michael Wilson requesting the inquest.  She wrote that the suicide crisis faced by Attawapiskat following Sheridan Hookimaw’s death created a parallel with the seven student deaths in Thunder Bay that triggered a wide-ranging inquest.

“It seems multiple factors contributed to Sheridan’s death. In addition to the bullying she experienced at school, her physical health put Sheridan at greater risk for self-harm, particularly when coupled with the lack of suitable housing available in the community,” said the letter, signed by Stephanie Hookimaw. “Further, much of the medical care she required was not available in Attawapiskat.”

In Ontario, a death by suicide does not automatically trigger an inquest, but the coroner does have the discretion to call one if it’s deemed in the public interest.

Six months after Sheridan Hookimaws’s death, Attawapiskat, a Cree community in Ontario’s James Bay region, was gripped by a crisis after dozens of youth attempted or contemplated suicide. First Nations in Ontario have continually faced waves of suicide epidemics.

“The family is feeling that Sheridan is forgotten and they want something to come out of the tragedy like healing and changes to the system for the kids,” said aunt Jackie Hookimaw-Witt. “The situation with the young girls is not getting any better. It’s getting worse. They are hoping that when there is an inquiry, the story will come out as to what is really needed.”

The family is getting the support of NDP MP Charlie Angus whose riding includes Attawapiskat.

“The inquest is needed because there is ample scientific evidence of the need to establish intervention protocols in the wake of youth suicide to prevent the appearance of ‘echo’ clusters among affected peers,” said Angus, in an emailed statement to APTN News. “The federal government has seen wave after wave of suicide clusters on reserves and yet they refuse to put in the most basic resources to prevent these clusters.”

Angus and NDP MPP Gilles Bisson, the MPP for the region, co-signed a letter to Wilson also requesting the inquest.

“Canada failed Sheridan. She was a child ground down into poverty and hopelessness by the lack of access to the most basic services that other Canadian children take for granted,” said the letter from the two politicians.

The letter said Sheridan Hookimaw may have been exposed to toxic chemicals from contaminated school grounds and that she lived with 20 other people in a “house unfit for human habitation.” The letter said the girl tried and failed to get help after facing a suicide death in the family and to deal with bullying.

The 13-year-old girl was found outdoors by a patrolling Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service officer on Oct. 19, 2015, in an area known locally as the “first rapids.”

Sheridan Hookimaw suffered from several medical ailments, including asthma, which were aggravated by mold in her home. In the winter of 2014 the sewage link-up to the home failed, triggering a backup that made the home unlivable despite attempts to contain the smell and disinfect the premises using air fresheners and bleach. The backup, which made the mold worse, aggravated the girl’s condition and she was hospitalized in Timmins, Ont.

The house was condemned that summer and the family was forced to live in a two-bedroom nurse’s residence.

Despite sitting 90 km from a De Beers diamond mine, Attawapiskat, which sits near the point where the Attawapiskat River flows into James Bay, is one of the country’s poorest First Nations.

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