Saskatchewan suicide epidemic continues


author: taylor balfour | news writer

credit petterio via flickr


Five First Nations Women Have Died in Northern Sask.

As of right now, five Indigenous girls have committed suicide in northern Saskatchewan. The first time the news made headlines was back in the second week of October. Now, branching into November, the number has risen to five and the number is continuing to grow.

An article written in the Star opened with “Another indigenous girl has committed suicide in northern Saskatchewan,” and it means this province has problem that isn’t being addressed. On Oct. 20, the Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed that it’s “obviously a tremendous tragedy in Saskatchewan that happens all too often,” but assured that they “continue to be committed to working with Indigenous communities across the country to deal with this ever-occurring tragedy.” The girls have ranged from the ages of 10-14, the most recent being a 13-year-old girl.

The problem is pressing and needs to be addressed and supported as quickly as possible. According to the Globe and Mail, Saskatchewan’s premier, Brad Wall, “said the issue of suicides in the North has been a top concern for local leaders and the provincial government for some years,” and they also report that “Health Canada issued a statement last week saying it will help fund costs for three mental-health therapists to provide counselling to at-risk youth on Fridays and Saturdays until the end of December.” This is only the beginning of the support that is needed.

Marlene McNab, who is a part of the Faculty of Indigenous Social Work at the First Nations University of Canada Regina campus goes on to explain why mental health funding in cases such as this are so important.

“Underfunding has left communities without the proper resources and supports to prevent crises like what has happened in Attawapiskat and Stanley Mission,” she explains.

McNab also speaks on Health Canada releasing The First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework back in January of 2015, saying that it was “outlining the need to respond effectively to crises in First Nations communities and how there are critical gaps in treatment for depression and addiction, suicide prevention resources, and anti-bullying initiatives.”

But like so many previously commissioned reports, the federal government is slow to act on implementing a First Nations framework.

Offering insight into the situation, McNab claims “we need to consider how Canada’s colonialist policy has systemically weakened First Nations tribal groups across Canada.” She goes on to state that, “Suicide rates amongst First Nations youth are not isolated from the intergenerational origins of cultural oppression. They are a symptom of ongoing strife and struggle in communities that are suffering from these intergenerational impacts.”

CTV News even claims that in regard to suicidal thoughts in adults, about 9 per cent of the general public claims to have had such thoughts, while 22 per cent of the First Nations population has. The survey was taken during 2008-2010, so the numbers have probably shifted since. CTV also reports that with a suicide rate per 100,000 people, for every 24 non-aboriginal male suicides, there are 126 aboriginal suicides. For females, it’s five to 35.

“While history cannot be changed, public opinion is an effective means of ensuring we learn from the past and take steps to address what is happening now,” McNab explains.

“Governments are swayed by public opinion and mainstream Canada can support First Nations communities by opening its collective heart to what we are currently struggling with.”

Over the duration of October, many schools, communities and cities have held candlelight vigils in order to remember those lost.

According to the CBC, the executive director of the Piwapan Women’s Centre out in La Ronge, Karen Sanderson, said, “I don’t know what more we can lose to bring the changes we need in this community.”

However, McNab says, “At a national conference on suicide prevention this past week in Iqaluit, a youth presenter, Natan Obed, told delegates that creating social equity in health, housing, and education is key to addressing the high suicide rate in Inuit Nunavut.”

As the CBC reported, “In order to get there from here, we need to close the gap and demand that collaboration between all sectors and jurisdictions take precedence.”

How can students become more aware of this issue? How could students help?

“My advice for students is to get involved,” McNab explains. “Become willing to be a part of the dialogue. Learn about the ‘real’ Canada. Education without reconciliation will not shift your perception in the slightest.”

Most importantly, it’s crucial to take away more than statistics from these stories.

“These stories are more than what is written in the headlines or social media. These young people were loved by their families. They had promising futures that could have been realized, had their circumstances been different. Their lives were just as valuable as every living youth in Canada and for whatever reason, this value went unrecognized and these young people chose to take their lives,” McNab states.

Stories of these deaths are far more than statistics on a board as to why this is an issue. These are individual stories and individual people who held value and importance in all of the people they touched. While it is critical for us to move forward and find ways to heal and resolve the issues prevalent, these were still individuals whose stories need to be remembered.

“Their stories need to be told and we need to listen with an ear that is capable of creating a context of how their lives were shaped and influenced by the intergenerational origins of cultural oppression,” McNab assures.

Far too often, people take action when it’s too late. So let’s start to prevent as much pain for their families as possible.

McNab also assures that the “government set up a toll-free number on Oct. 1 for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues. The number is 1-855-242-3310.”

It is never too late to get help.


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