Nepotism connected to higher suicide rates on First Nations?

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

A recent column on First Nation governance has angered some First Nation reporters.

The editorial in the Calgary Herald welcomes a recent Federal Court decision to remove chief and council from Bearspaw First Nation in southern Alberta for violating the rule of law on the community by arbitrarily extending their terms in office.

That victory for accountability, however, is not what is angering some. It is the mention of a link between nepotism and higher suicide among First Nations.

The line goes like this: “Nepotism is always wrong, but is sadly rampant on First Nations reserves, where it can have deadly consequences. It leads to hopelessness, which is linked to soaring suicide rates.”

One columnist referred to this link as “pointless extrapolation or exaggeration.”

However, while it is legitimate to question assertions, is this link really so difficult to infer?

But, it’s a legitimate thing to question. What do we know about First Nation suicide? Well, we know the rate is higher than the average. We know it disproportionately affects First Nation males.

We know for sure that reduced socio-economic conditions is one variable that makes one more prone to suicide. Sure enough, we know that studies have found that unemployment and economic conditions affect suicide among Native Americans. In similar Canadian studies, economic conditions also affects First Nation suicide rates.

Where suicide comes in is diminished employment opportunities and advancement is a risk factor for depression which feeds into suicide.

Sociologist Menno Boldt perceived a link between unemployment, welfare dependency with a sense of hopelessness and also, for mainly males, a sense of lost purpose and reduced self-esteem.

Where would nepotism fit in? Well, nepotism is about who gets the jobs and why. There would be a permanent population that is unemployed and cannot change their lot in life. In other contexts, nepotism does impact unemployment.

So, where things intersect would be in unemployment, economic conditions, which is affected by nepotism. The variable chain would likely be nepotism is one factor among many leading to unemployment and reduced self-esteem.

The OECD found that good governance is connected to better socio-economic outcomes, so it is not a stretch of logic to say curbing nepotism would reduce some unemployment, as well as dysfunctional behaviours, including addiction and yes, suicide.

All of this is theorizing, but I think more study needs to be done into the link between nepotism and suicide. In our annual Aboriginal Governance Index, for example, we ask about perceptions of nepotism on reserves. It would not be too difficult to see if that perception correlates in communities with elevated rates of suicide.