Anishinaabe cyclist rides across Turtle Island to raise awareness of Tataskweyak Cree Nation mental health crisis
Alisha Samnani // Editor-in-Chief
C. Palomar Rubisco // Illustrator
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Rylee Nepinak, a 25-year-old Anishinaabe man from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, didn’t have much cycling experience when he decided to hop on a bike and ride across Turtle Island in August.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation, located at Split Lake in what is now known as Northern Manitoba, declared a state of emergency in July 2021 after losing 13 community members to suicide – 11 of which were youth. In a July 14 news release, the Tataskweyak noted that they had “reached a breaking point and our community is under crisis with alcohol and drugs contributing to it.” In the same release, the nation called for long-term solutions for community members, including immediate mental wellness support systems.
Although Nepinak has never set foot into the community, he decided to start the ride in an effort to raise awareness of the mental health crisis taking place in Tataskweyak Cree Nation and other communities across Turtle Island.
“When I heard about what was happening to our relatives and to Tataskweyak — I’m not from there, but regardless how far you live, you’re our relative,” he said. “And I think we should take care of each other.” Nepinak started his journey from Vancouver on Aug. 11, ending up on the other side of the country nearly two months later.
In addition to the mental health crisis, Tataskwyak has also been experiencing a clean water crisis since 2017— something Nepinak has been strongly advocating for a solution to.
To date, Nepinak has raised over $30,000 on his gofundme page for the Tataskweyak, doubling his initial goal of $10,000. He plans to turn the money over to Tataskweyak youth, allowing them to decide how the money is used. Nepinak’s hope for the money? That it goes towards the creation of youth councils, where young people can gather and make collective decisions about their community.
Although Nepinak has yet to visit Tataskweyak, he’s built connections with the community since the start of his cycling journey. “They’ve experienced a lot of struggle, and they have been for many years,” Nepinak said. “I’ve been hearing how much better they feel that Turtle Island is taking notice of what’s happening.”
For more information on the mental health crisis, or to make a donation, visit Nepinak’s gofundme page.