Losing a best friend is hard for anyone, but it might be especially difficult if you’re 12.
Shareena Ermineskin from Maskwacis, who was recently crowned Miss Teen Central Alberta, misses her friend Sapphirra Rabbit, every day.
“I lost my best friend to suicide last May,” said Ermineskin on Thursday.
The two friends were supposed to enter a teen beauty pageant together before Rabbit’s death. When that was no longer possible, Ermineskin decided to enter the contest on her own, to honour her friend.
Since her friend died, the Grade 8 student, has been raising awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues that she said are prevalent in her community.
With her suicide prevention platform, the 13-year-old was the youngest teenager to be crowned Miss Teen Central Alberta in mid-March, in Calgary.
“So many people face depression and anxiety by themselves and they’re afraid of being ridiculed for reaching out to others, and I want to encourage them, and give them hope, to let them know they’re not alone,” she said.
Ermineskin, a Montana First Nation resident, said she would like to erase the stigma related to mental health issues, in honour of Rabbit.
Katherine Swampy, a band councillor (local politician) and Ermineskin’s aunt, said she is proud of the work her niece is doing for the community.
Swampy said before losing her friend about 10 months ago, Ermineskin was a “very happy young little girl.”
“When her friend passed away, it devastated her. It really hurt her in so many ways and she just grew up all at once,” said Swampy.
“She is doing all of this in memory of her friend, she’s helping a lot of other youth who are going through the same thing, I see her making her late friend’s family happy.”
Swampy said suicide is prevalent in all of the four Indigenous communities in Maskwacis. The way she sees it, she said, one of the main concern is the lack of resources in the community.
Swampy said Maskwacis’s population has doubled in the last 10 years and that’s led to poverty and social issues.
“There’s a shortage of houses, employment, and a shortage of a lot of things people need,” said Swampy.
The aunt, who is a Samson Cree Nation resident, said suicide and mental health issues are especially prevalent among young people.
Swampy who counsels locally (as a volunteer) said young people face mental health issues, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction issues and often feel disconnected.
“It’s tough growing up as it is but to grow up facing these types of social issues, it’s a lot more hard for the youth to go through,” said Swampy.
She said Ermineskin’s voice is bringing hope to many young people in the community.
The duo is raising money to send Ermineskin to nationals to compete in the Miss Teenage Canada pageant later this year. The duo wants to raise $2,500 to cover food, accommodation and travel.
For more information search Miss Teen Central Alberta fundraiser on Facebook.