Dear Scott Moe: “Pillars of Life” doesn’t cut it

political debates these days cause me to take psychic damage. Nicolas Raymond via Flickr

Sask party won’t take criticism

Content Warning: This article contains discussion of the suicide epidemic, medical negligence, and intergenerational trauma affecting Indigenous people.

“Pillars of Life,” Saskatchewan’s Suicide Prevention Plan, is not the most efficient option to reduce suicide rates in Saskatchewan. This is because it only does the bare minimum, plain and simple. 

“Pillars of Life” does not have any grit. By “grit,” I mean something with any friction, something that you can sink your nails into. Grit is required of legislative suicide prevention. Reducing suicide rates requires grit, and none of that is demonstrated within the Pillars of Life. 

Vague and underwhelming, the plan outlines how, in a five-step process, the program will miraculously lower suicide rates with measures hospitals should already be taking for people with mental illness. Not only were the actions taken so far ineffective, but suicide rates also continue to surge. After the Pillars of Life plan launched, Samwell Uko died in Wascana Lake after being turned away from the Regina General Hospital. If this was not your first clue that things aren’t working, I don’t know what it will take.

NDP MLA Doyle Vermette has challenged the Saskatchewan Party on its efficiency with his own Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Plan. Vermette sees the effects of poverty in Indigenous communities, and wants to fund the scarce social programming in Northern Saskatchewan. He raises excellent points about how the plan will not reduce suicide rates, being too vague.

It is ignorant to believe that all issues related to suicide stem only from mental health. Environmental factors can also heavily influence people, depending on their living standards. When it comes to Indigenous communities disproportionately affected by suicide, “[s]ixty per cent of children on reserves live in poverty,” stated NDP candidate Ryan Meili in the 2020 Leader’s Debate. 

Poverty within First Nations communities, in turn, is a result of the long-lasting intergenerational trauma inflicted upon Indigenous peoples through the assimilation tactics of John A. Macdonald. Contrary to the colonizer’s perspective, this trauma did not disappear when the final residential school closed in 1996. The effects of genocide inflicted upon Indigenous communities still manifest in physical forms like chronic illnesses, alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide. 

While “Pillars of Life” mentions Indigenous suicide rates, it neglects to acknowledge Indigenous people’s intergenerational trauma. While the plan shows many preventative measures, it needs to be met with a commitment to improve quality of life on reserves as well. Acknowledging high suicide rates in Saskatchewan is only half the truth. There needs to be action taken on behalf of Saskatchewan’s government to implement methods of action to improve Indigenous quality of life. 

The recent 2020 Leader’s Debate also mentioned “Pillars of Life,” which Moe adamantly defended as being significant because the Canadian Mental Health Authority approved it, despite the harsh criticisms outlined above, Moe continues to defend the credibility of the plan, even though learning from its mistakes should be a priority in the spirit of reconciliation. Furthermore, the belligerence of Moe and his refusal to budge on improving the suicide plan proves that the Sask Party is only willing to do the bare minimum to improve suicide rates. If the provincial government cannot advocate for its citizens’ best interest, the suicide rates will continue to skyrocket. 

Tristan Durocher, a Métis fiddler from the North of Saskatchewan, has been a key player in advocating for lowering suicide rates. Durocher marched from northern Saskatchewan to the Legislature building’s lawn after the provincial legislature dismissed Vermette’s Bill.  Upon his arrival, he set up a ceremonial tipi. He then began a hunger strike to acknowledge the rising suicide rates, raising that they should be regarded as a state of emergency. 

The Leader’s Debate acknowledged that Moe sent two of his Ministers over to speak to Durocher, rather than speak to him one-on-one. If Moe takes the issue of rising Indigenous suicide rates seriously, then why didn’t he walk onto the lawn to talk to Durocher?

NDP Leader Ryan Meili also demonstrated his distaste for the “Pillars of Life” and spotlighted Durocher for peacefully advocating for Indigenous lives. He was also critical of Moe’s choice to ignore Durocher, who is right outside his office. 

Durocher was given a court injunction for violating a municipal bylaw by setting up his tipi on the lawn of the Legislature. In short, Scott Moe does not care that Tristan Durocher is advocating for the mental wellbeing of others, he wants his front lawn back. 

The ignorance shown by Scott Moe – prioritizing the economy over the people – demonstrates how steps towards reconciliation are yet to be taken by the Sask Party. If we cannot prioritize the importance of Indigenous lives, then lives will continue to be lost. 

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