Aboriginal youth face a fate that should horrify Canadians and there’s an obvious fix
Ending the cycle of poverty and violence among Aboriginal youth can seem like an impossibly daunting endeavour. After decades of negotiations, commissions and protests, including last year’s Idle No More movement and Ottawa’s recent unsuccessful attempt to reform First Nations education funding, Aboriginal children continue to face a fate that should horrify most Canadians.
Macleans Magazine, Tamsin McMahon - July 14, 2014
Mike McKenzie celebrated his 21st birthday in May. For many Canadians, 21 is a milestone, an age when they graduate from university and begin their adult lives. For McKenzie, it’s something of a miracle.
Growing up in the isolated Skeetchestn Indian Band, a community of around 260 in the B.C. Interior, he spent his childhood shuffling between the school on the reserve and, when it was shut down for a time, enduring racist taunts at a Catholic high school in Kamloops. Eventually, he dropped out altogether. His family was devastated by his older brother’s suicide in 2003, and four years ago, McKenzie decided he, too, was destined for an early grave. “I had a hard time at that time in my life, controlling my anger,” he says now. “I got to the point where I was really upset and really isolated in my community. There was just nothing there for me. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it, that I wanted to kill myself finally.”
His turnaround came after attending an Aboriginal youth conference that allowed him to meet with other First Nations teens living on reserves. He realized his struggles were hardly unique. Isolation, depression and substance abuse are rampant among Aboriginal youth growing up in remote communities. Many of the youth that McKenzie has since met have bounced in and out of foster care or jail, struggled to escape from gang violence or are grieving family and friends who committed suicide.