Canadian Rangers mourn the death of Karlena Kamenawatamin
By Sergeant Peter Moon, 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group
November 17, 2018 is International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day. On this day, people affected by suicide loss gather at events in their communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. Last year, there were close to 400 Survivor Day events in more than 20 countries. Survivor Day has 3 main goals: to educate, to offer an opportunity for attendees to share, and to help survivors commemorate their loved ones. To learn more, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention website.
In late September, members of the local Canadian Ranger and Junior Canadian Ranger patrols played a lead role at a funeral in Bearskin Lake First Nation for a 13-year-old Junior Ranger who committed suicide.
Members of the small Oji-Cree community north of Thunder Bay were shocked when they learned Karlena Kamenawatamin took her own life.
Expressing their grief, the community filled the Full Gospel Church for the visitation and the funeral service. Junior Rangers acted as pall bearers and presented a Junior Ranger flag to Karlena’s parents at the conclusion of the service. They also flanked Karlena’s casket when it was driven from the airport to the church after an autopsy in Thunder Bay.
The Junior Rangers are a culturally sensitive Canadian Army program for youth aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across the Canadian North.
“There’s a lot of sadness in the community,” said Warrant Officer Kevin Meikle, an Army instructor who helped organize the funeral. “It’s a very small community so any loss is felt by all, and certainly all the Junior Rangers knew Karlena well. They are sad but they are coping.”
He said grief counselors who flew into the community were helping the Rangers, Junior Rangers and community members.
“We were shocked when we learned of her death,” said Captain John Mc Neil, the Army officer who commands the 1000 Junior Rangers in 24 First Nations across the Far North of Ontario.
In July, Karlena was awarded the Order of St. George Medal, a prestigious national honour, for her outstanding leadership at Camp Loon, an annual advanced leadership training camp for Junior Rangers in Northern Ontario.
“I spoke with her several times at Camp Loon,” Captain McNeil said. ”She was very quiet but she was a strong team leader. That’s why she was chosen to be the top Junior Ranger at the camp. She was number one out of 141 Junior Rangers.”
Karlena’s mother said her daughter enjoyed being a Junior Ranger. “She told me Karlena was very excited about going back to Camp Loon next year,” Warrant Officer Meikle said.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation met with the Junior Rangers and told them Karlena’s death had brought attention to the difficult living conditions in most of the North’s First Nations.
Sol Mamakwa, the MPP for the Kiiwetinoong riding, was also in Bearskin Lake for the funeral. He brought attention to Karlena’s suicide, and to teen suicide in First Nations communities, in the Ontario Legislature.
“Two years ago, the suicide rate for children under the age of 15 in First Nations I represent was 50 times more than the national average,” he said, calling for action to stop Indigenous youth suicides in the Far North.
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