Crees gathered at a regional health assembly in Waskaganish launched a letter-writing campaign this morning to show support for the people in Attawapiskat, on the Ontario side of James Bay, where a suicide crisis has been making headlines.
The initiative is spear-headed by Air Creebec, the Cree-owned airline that flies regularly to Attawapiskat as well as throughout Eeyou Istchee. Air Creebec president Matthew Happyjack invited people to drop their letters — and kids' drawings — off at any of the airline counters in the remote Cree communities. The letters will be delivered next week.
"Sometimes people lose hope, they lose their faith, and it takes people like us to remind them that their lives matter," said Ashley Iserhoff, director of health and social development in Mistissini and spokesperson for the letter-writing campaign.
"So we are doing something to show our love and our support for Attawapiskat."
Iserhoff asked the dozens of delegates at the assembly to stand and place their hands on their hearts as he explained the project.
The Cree School Board, Cree Health Board and Cree Nation Youth Council are also involved and will encourage their members, especially young people, to take a moment to write a letter or draw a picture to add to the bundle that will be delivered next week.
"That heart you're feeling right now can be heavy," said Iserhoff. "This community right across the bay is struggling. People are hurting."
The need for mental health services in Eeyou Istchee has been one of the main topics of discussion at this week's health assembly. Cree communities in Quebec are also dealing with higher rates of suicide than the national average.