Chee Chee

Chee Chee: A Study of Aboriginal Suicide

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Chee Chee
    Book Description:

    Using his in-depth understanding of Native self-destructive behaviour and information from interviews with Chee Chee's mother, close friends, and fellow artists, Evans shows that understanding Benjamin's suicide requires moving beyond psychological analysis to include the damage that contact with White society has caused Native culture, heritage, status, and meaning of life. Evans argues that White society needs to understand these dynamics to be involved in the healing process of Aboriginal peoples in Canada - or to at least avoid hindering their recovery.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7178-5
    Subjects: Anthropology
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. FOREWORD (pp. xi-xiv)
    Stan McKay

    When Alvin Evans introduced himself to me a few years ago, one of the topics he raised was the need for discussion about Canadian Aboriginal suicide. Al was researching this area because of his professional training, but he was specifically interested in the life and death of Benjamin Chee Ghee. His question was how a non-Aboriginal could respectfully engage himself in this story.

    Some months ago, we met again with new developments to reflect upon. Contact with family and friends had made it possible for him to begin writing this book with integrity. He was absolutely convinced of the need...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xv-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. xxi-2)

    In this book about aboriginal suicide I am speaking principally to the members of the white culture in Canadian society about our relationship with the First Nations people. I want white Canadians to know what our actions, attitudes, and feelings have done to the First Nations people in a specific way. That is, intentionally or non-intentionally, we have negatively affected Native people to the point that many, particularly the young, have opted to die rather than to live and be a part of Canadian society.

    I hope members of the aboriginal people will also read this book. I feel it...

  6. 1 THE VIGIL (pp. 3-11)

    Three watershed experiences changed the flow of my life and led to the writing of this book. The first happened when I was twenty years old and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Following basic training, my first posting was to the Rose Valley RCMP detachment in central Saskatchewan. A message had been received from the Indian agent of the nearby Nut Lake Indian Reserve that a Native woman had been found dead in the forest. An investigation was requested, suggesting that the death was something other than natural or accidental.

    There were two RCMP officers stationed at...

  7. 2 CHEE CHEE: A LIFE (pp. 12-26)

    At a party in Montreal in 1969 Benjamin Chee Chee introduced himself to Frederick C. Brown, a lawyer, with the following words: “My name is Benjamin and I have a problem.” The line came from the filmThe Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman. Chee Chee thought the words pertinent to his own life situation, and it became his method of introducing himself.

    It is unlikely that he ever realized the depth and intensity of his ultimate problem. He does not appear to have been a reflective person. Missing was the ability to raise to conscious comprehension the pervading presence of a...

  8. 3 CHEE CHEE THE ARTIST (pp. 27-42)

    Each year Dr Margaretha Ivars celebrates the arrival of the Finnish summer with a garden party at an elegant country site in central Finland. With care she selects and invites about twenty or thirty people whom she feels will find each other interesting companions. I have been invited to Margaretha’s garden party a number of times. The fact that I am usually the only Canadian academic hovering around those parts is likely one reason for that privilege. At this year’s party I had the good fortune to meet someone I had heard of but not met. “My name is Fritz...

  9. 4 OJIBWAY INHERITANCE (pp. 43-60)

    The history of the Ojibway people in North America reaches back through centuries and, from the Ojibway perspective, to the beginning of time. The Aboriginal people fully believed, because of some terrible wrong their forbearers had committed against the Great Spirit, that the first earth had been destroyed by a great flood. After a time a new earth had been created in which they were given the right and the means to exist. To support and guide this existence, a code had been given to the Ojibway people to guide them on the path of spiritual and ethical living. The...


    It was of vital concern to Benjamin Chee Chee that he be recognized as a member of the Ojibway nation. At his best his life was focused on that cherished reality. The values he inherited from the Ojibway nation were treasures that continually enriched his life. These included his love and reverence for nature, his drive and determination to prevail against unassailable odds, and his compelling need to be creative.

    However, another cultural context into which he was born would contaminate the values guiding his life as an Ojibway. Experiences from that second culture, fed into his life from birth...

  11. 6 THE ACT OF SUICIDE (pp. 95-113)

    To fully comprehend the death of Benjamin Chee Chee it is necessary to understand the extent of self-destructive behaviour among young Canadian Natives and the reasons why they kill themselves. When the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued the report of their findings in 1996, the commissioners felt compelled to address some concerns immediately. One problem stood out as being particularly urgent – the act of suicide: “Too many Aboriginal youth and young adults are pointing shotguns at their heads, putting ropes around their necks, destroying their powers of reason with the fumes of gasoline and glue. Even one such...


    Benjamin Chee Chee was born on 26 March 1944. He died at the Ottawa General Hospital at 3:10 a.m., 14 March 1977 twelve days before his thirty-third birthday. His death was the result of a suicide attempt in the Ottawa City Jail. The medical report reveals that he died of anoxia, an abnormally low amount of oxygen in the body tissues.

    Chee Chee strangled himself with an apparatus fashioned by his own hand. He stripped off his shirt and used it as a rope. He tied one end around his throat, the other to the cell bars. Then he slumped...


    The investigation of a suicide epidemic on the Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin Island described in chapter 6 was conducted by psychiatrist John Ward, Native counsellor Joseph Fox, and myself, in the fall of 1976 and spring of 1977. This suicide epidemic involved a group of five males and three females, all single, in an age range from seventeen years to thirty-one years with a median age of twenty-two years. I was then an active member of the International Association of Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention, and we were to hold our biennial congress in Helsinki, in June 1977. I arranged...

  14. 9 THE HEALING (pp. 139-153)

    In 1989 the oil carrierExxon Valdez, loaded to capacity, went aground on the rocky coast of Alaska. What followed was reported to be one of the most horrendous oil spills in maritime history. The site of the accident created worldwide concern as some forty thousand tons of oily sludge washed up on the pristine shores of Alaska. It was a terrible disaster. We were convinced that the natural beauty of a remote wilderness environment would be ruined forever, despite the frantic efforts that were immediately initiated.

    Recently some fresh information about the accident surprised me and gave me much-needed...

  15. 10 FINAL WORDS (pp. 154-160)

    Following an elaborate funeral service in the Native tradition, Benjamin Chee Ghee’s body was buried at the Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa on 18 March 1977. In February 1997, Ron Corbett, a reporter for theOttawa Sun, was assigned to write a story to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Chee Ghee’s death. In the process of researching his assignment Corbett discovered that Chee Ghee’s grave had remained unmarked for those twenty years except for a beaded stick placed there by a ten-year-old Native child.

    Corbett’s story is headlined “Unmarked grave almost all that’s left of one of Ottawa’s most prolific...

  16. NOTES (pp. 161-168)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 169-174)
  18. INDEX (pp. 175-178)


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