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Exercising your demons and moving on

INUVIK, Northwest Territories ? Suicide is, or was taboo in Native American culture. Perhaps that's why we don't talk about it. It's the easy way out, or so I've been told.

Our first known suicide in Fort McPherson happened in 1973. His name was Alfred and he was 12 days older than I was. He was 17 at the time. He still is, in my mind, 17.

I think about him now and then and wonder why. Why did he do it? I have my theories, but they're only that: theories. Whatever the reason, he took it with him.

Since then, we've had about 15 or more successful suicides and who knows how many attempts, like mine, that have gone unnoticed.

My attempts to expedite my demise are nothing new to those around me. I've told others about my attempts at meetings and during two of the three times I went to treatment. And it got easier, and it still gets easier, to talk or write about.

What is it about suicide and Native Americans? Why is this disease so much more prevalent in our society that in others? I think it's because we live in smaller communities and have a smaller population. But there's more; there has to be.

I was involved in the healing field for a few years back in my days in native politics. Some people still think I am, since I wrote about healing and non-healing in

my book "Porcupines and China Dolls" (Stoddard). This I did unknowingly.

I wanted to write a book about life in a small northern native community. I wanted to tell the day-to-day life in a community that has no sustainable development or no development, period. A community, like so many in the north, that are dependent on government and on those who seek employment elsewhere.

I wanted to tell a story about the effects of the residential school on the people who attended those mistakes in history, and their children, since the effects, I believe are multi-generational in that the emotions, whether we like it or not, are passed on from the parents to their children.

The anger that a parent feels for being sent to those hallowed halls of higher learning; the feeling of being abandoned; the feeling that you did something wrong; the shame of being told you were an Indian as thought that were a bad thing or something to be ashamed of.

It wasn't until I was in my late 30s and into native politics that I began to feel good about who I was, about being an Indian. At that time, we were called Loucheux, which is the bastardization of the French words for "slant or crossed eyes," which is what the explorers and fur traders called us when they first stumbled into our country over two hundred years ago.

There were those among us who actually wanted to keep the name: Loucheux. My guess is they didn't know what it meant and it's what we've been called for over a hundred years, but in the end, we used the word Gwich'in.

Suicide has been with the Gwich'in for almost 30 years and it's touched everyone in my hometown of Fort McPherson. Just when we seem to have seen the last of it, it crops its ugly head to remind us that we are still at risk, and will be for some time to come.

When it does come, it's almost like we should have expected it, but by then it's too late. We have great hindsight.

Anyhow, that's my thought for today: suicide and more questions than answers. That's what healing is all about: talking or writing about your inner demons and moving on.

Maybe that's why writing my book was such an experience. Many times I'd gloss over what I'd written, but I had to come back to those parts and write what I meant and not what I didn't want to tell. A lot of people commented on my honesty and the courage it took to write that.

At the time, I didn't think it was courage. It was just my way of exorcising the demons that plagued my life. Sometimes they still do ? and when they do ? I write about it.