Memorial held ahead of Indigenous Affairs Minister’s arrival in Attawapiskat

(Community members gathered in Attawapiskat to remember 13-year old Sheridan Hookimaw. Photo: Jason Leroux)

Annette Francis
APTN National News
ATTAWAPISKAT — Family and friends gathered in song and prayer Sunday night in Attawapiskat to remember the life of 13-year-old Sheridan Hookimaw.

Hookimaw ended her life in October.

The ceremony was held on the outskirts of the reserve where candles surrounded a photo of the young girl, adorned with butterfly lights.  It’s the place where Hookimaw’s body was found six months ago by a police officer.

It has been a long week in the community where media, politicians and government officials have converged after Chief Bruce Shisheesh declared a state of emergency after a string of suicide attempts.

The federal government responded by sending 18 mental health workers to Attawapiskat and the province promised $2 million dollars in annual funding.

Community members who attended the memorial would not comment on Hookimaw but did say the ceremony was held to support the family who is going through a tough week.

Memorial Hookimaw
A picture of 13-year old Sheridan Hookimaw adorned with lights and flowers in Attawapiskat. Photo: Jason Leroux/APTN

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the riding, are scheduled to arrive in Attawapiskat at 12:30 p.m. local time to meet with the chief and community members.

Shisheesh told APTN National News Sunday that he will focus on a made-in-Attawapiskat solution to the problems that plague the community.

“We talk about helping each other, working together, and that’s where the three parties can come together, nation-to-nation,” said Shisheesh, “And what an opportunity for both governments to bring reconciliation, you know, to bring nation-to-nation — it’s right here in Attawapiskat.”

Shisheesh said the programs and funding in place now will not help the community. Health services are fragmented and split between Canada and the province. He said even when a young person is taken from the community for help, the healing isn’t complete.

“They send our children of Attawapiskat down south and with no proper assessment. There’s no follow up, no after care, no mental health services when they return to the community,” said Shisheesh. “And when they get sent out they come back without being properly taken care of. There’s no healing. There’s no proper assessment that has taken place. That’s where the two governments, provincial and federal needs to change the system.”

Attawapiskat has its own healing lodge but, according to Shisheesh, the chronic housing shortage where 12 or 13 people share a single house means it is usually used to house families rather than help people in the community who are having issues.

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