Inuit pop singer-songwriter Kelly Fraser, who garnered worldwide attention with her Inuktitut cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds, had been seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder before dying by suicide last week, according to her family.
Ms. Fraser’s mother, Theresa Angoo, and six siblings issued a joint statement on Monday saying she had taken her own life on Christmas Eve at the age of 26.
“Kelly suffered from PTSD for many years as a result of childhood traumas, racism and persistent cyber-bullying,” the statement said. “She was actively seeking help and spoke openly about her personal challenges online and through her journey."
On social media, Ms. Fraser proudly showed off clothing and jewellery by Inuit designers, and promoted other Inuit musicians and artists. She posted excitedly about traditional foods: caribou, seal eyeballs, mattak (whale skin and blubber), oatmeal with aqpik berries. But amid the cheery posts were also signs that she felt the weight of criticism.
“I face a ton of lateral violence and criticism and hate,” she wrote in a Dec. 15 Facebook post. “I need a strong support system. ... Just because I am well known doesn’t mean I deserve it.”
Inuit have among the highest suicide rates in the world; in 2017, the rate was 106 for every 100,000 people.
Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, said Ms. Fraser’s death underscores the need for a national suicide prevention strategy.
“We lose so many young people in my region to suicide and they are treated as tragedies,” Mr. Angus said in an interview on Monday. “A tragedy is when someone gets hit by a bus crossing the street. When you see patterns that are preventable, where steps can be taken, that’s not a tragedy, that’s systemic negligence – the failure to act on the indicators of suicide, the need to put resources in place.”
Parliamentarians voted unanimously in favour of Mr. Angus’s private member’s motion for such a plan in May, but there has been no action since.
“We haven’t seen the resources being put forward and it’s not mentioned in any of the ministers’ mandate letters,” Mr. Angus said. “Parliament has said act, so we need to act.”
Ms. Fraser was born in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, and was living in Winnipeg. She released her debut album, Isuma, in 2014; her 2017 sophomore effort, Sedna, was nominated for best Indigenous music album at the 2018 Juno Awards.
She sang and rapped in both English and Inuktitut and blended her cultural influences with those of contemporary pop. Most recently, she had been crowdfunding for her third album, Decolonize.
“Kelly was an incredibly kind person who gave so much of herself to help others. She was fiercely open with her fans in the hopes that sharing her struggles might help them know that they were not alone," her family said in Monday’s statement.
Kelly Bushnell, a professor of literature who often writes about the Arctic, travelled to Tromso, Norway, with Ms. Fraser in November as part of a program on circumpolar Arctic women’s leadership. She said she was shocked and devastated to lose such “a beautiful soul.”
"Kelly had this incredibly kind but powerful way of teaching through her music that crossed geographical and cultural borders, and her work will always live on as a call to action for social and environmental justice in the Arctic,” she said.
According to a biography posted on her website, Ms. Fraser experienced numerous personal struggles, including substance use and the loss of her father to suicide.
“Kelly uses her pain as inspiration to make art that can positively impact other native youths,” the biography states. “She seeks to spread her messages of joy, healing and cultural pride through a blend of traditional Inuit music and modern production."
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or Crisis Service Canada at 1-833-456-4566, or visit crisisservicescanada.ca.