A 6th girl has taken her life in northern Saskatchewan in less than a month
Stanley Mission, Sask. is one of a few communities mourning the loss of children who have recently taken their own lives.
“This is heartbreaking and shocking,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan. “Our youth ought to be planning their future and celebrating their successes; instead, there’s despair and hoplessness.”
FSIN vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan and her daughter. Jonathan says as a mother of three girls she’s horrified at what’s taking place in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Kimberly Jonathan)
“It’s more than the pit-of-my-stomach anger,” she said. “The pit-of-my-soul pain. As a life-giver of three Indigenous girls, I just cannot fathom having to write another proposal for help.”
Jonathan said she doesn’t know what more to do at this point. She said she’s tired of Indigenous people being treated like beggars, having to plead their case for help in the midst of a crisis. She’s once again calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit northern Saskatchewan and provide the necessary support.
“Condolences: Thank you for them,” said Jonathan. “We need action. We need to see resources that our leadership have been asking for years.”
More than anything, Jonathan is stressing the importance of this being a provincial and national issue. She is calling on people everywhere to be a part of action that makes elected officials step up.
“We don’t want photo [opportunities]. We don’t want pretty speeches,” said Jonathan. “Pretty speeches are not going to save our children.”
Education director responds to tragedy
Northern Lights School Division education director Ken Ladouceur said teachers and students in these affected communities are being given all the support they need right now.
“Words escape you. Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families and Indigenous people everywhere,” he said.
This school division is not new to tragedy. Most recently, Ladouceur helped guide staff and students through the school shooting in La Loche.
Now, Ladouceur is trying to be a leader in the face of yet another tragedy.
People came together in La Ronge, Sask. for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls.
“We are no stranger to suicide within our schools and across our Indigenous populations in the north,” he said. “It is something we are always aware of and trying to support as much as we can.”
Ladouceur knows more work can be done, though.
“Prevention programs are in all of our schools,” Ladouceur said. “The age of these students tells us we can’t put enough interventions and support in for these youth.”
Staff and administration are working with local health districts to provide all the help they can. Ladouceur said he knows how difficult this is on the teachers right now.
He said, “The students are as close to them as their own family.”
Leaders speak out
“Research and experience shows that the connection between youth suicide and the autonomy of Indigenous communities, working on reconciliation and empowering those communities is a large part of that solution,” said Buckley Belanger, MLA for Athabasca.
Belanger also took issue with comments made earlier in the year by health minister Jim Reiter — when he was the minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs — and said the government would look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action that made sense and could be done quickly.
Belanger mentioned the years of work which went into research, interviews and consultations before the final report was released.
“They were not done so provincial ministers could decide what made sense to them,” Belanger said. “If this government really isn’t willing to listen, if they aren’t willing to work with the Indigenous communities, if they are only going to do what is quick and easy for them, then how does this government expect anything to change?”
NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon said the supports offered to northern communities after the first three youths took their own lives haven’t been enough. He mentioned long-standing inequities and inadequacies in the north.
“We’ve got a sixth suicide. What we’re doing just isn’t working,” he said. “The supports just haven’t been there.”
Wotherspoon said long-term commitments need to be made to address issues such as addictions and housing.
“We’ve got a real shortfall to make up for in the long-term.”
He said it takes resources to bolster basic things such as evening programs, and to continue to working with northern leadership, providing the sources to help healing.
“This is unspeakably tragic,” said Premier Brad Wall.
Wall said suicide strategies have been developing in collaboration with school divisions and health regions.
“Obviously we need to continue to do more,” he said.
Wall said the government is looking at all options to address the issue, noting the pattern of all six lives lost being young girls.
“Everything’s on the table. It’s an all-of-the-above approach we need to take for this because we just can’t afford to lose any young girls, or any young people period,” he said.
MP Georgina Jolibois called on the federal government to address the immediate needs of Indigenous mental health in northern communities.
“The government needs to end the Band-Aid strategy and commit to a culturally appropriate long-term approach to mental wellness,” Jolibois said during Monday’s question period in the House of Commons. “How much louder do our kids need to be?” SOURCE
Dr. Richard Thatcher
The tragedy of recent teenage suicides in northern Saskatchewan should cut to the sympathetic core of all of our hearts. Of course, the grief that so many of us feel cannot come close to the overwhelming heartache of the family members and close friends of these children. What we do have as common sentiments, however, should be joined to fuel a collective urge to action.
Chief Tammy Cooke-Searson of the La Ronge First Nation and FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron should be listened to when they say that all of Saskatchewan and all levels of government with overlapping jurisdictions are needed in working together to develop a plan of action to prevent future tragedies of this kind among aboriginal youth. I have worked as a social and health planning consultant with Métis and First Nations communities in much of the province for several decades and in this capacity, I have lived for a year on one large reserve. That experience combined with much of my research has inspired me to offer some thoughts regarding some elements that could usefully be included in a sustained plan of action. I make these suggestions in the spirit of the saying that it takes a whole community to raise a child. In the modern world, all of us are members of the very different and wider community that is now required to nurture young people of any background.
Compared with the non-aboriginal culture, one social trait that has remained strong in aboriginal communities is a pattern of peer affiliation. Clearly yielding considerable satisfaction, comfort and even, on occasion, joy, to members of the same community, it is the spiritual and social centre of their existence. That pattern is grounded both in tradition and contemporary feelings of being outsiders in a historically invasive, but dominant society of non-aboriginal people.
To use rough phrasing, I suspect that adolescent and child suicides have much to do with this desire for affiliation gone bad. Gang recruitment pressures, on- and off-line bullying and adolescent Facebook suicide pacts are examples. It follows that one of the key answers to overcoming these patterns of self-destructive behaviour is to maintain or shift back the balance of peer culture and social life among children and youth from negative to positive valence. The resiliency of that intense desire for affiliation in aboriginal communities should be built upon in program design.
As Chief Cook-Searson suggested recently, children in aboriginal communities desperately need positive outlets to play, learn and express their personal needs. My wonderful memories of a very rich recreational mix of activities available to working-class and middle-class children in Saskatoon and Regina contrasts with my knowledge that most aboriginal children are far less well provided for in this regard. A similar richness should be available to every child on every reserve and northern Metis community in the province, as well as the low-income neighbourhoods of our inner cities.While reserve and northern town schools often do a good job with after-school sports, evening, weekend and some short-term summer events, much more extended cultural camps and day programming could be invaluable. Arts and crafts programs are in very short supply — and guided, land-based activities are clear options.
New funding from the federal and provincial governments should be drawn upon and coupled with profits from “Indian” casinos that go into community development could be more heavily skewed towards children and youth programming. Funding from the Brighter Futures program allocations could be rearranged to support more programs of this kind.
Targets of preventive intervention could be centred on local families that routinely place children and youth at high risk of anti-social and self-destructive behaviour. Intensive counselling and organized parent-support groups should be organized to support them, advise them and monitor the safety of their children.
A new program should be developed that trains and provides an attractive allowance to responsible, middle-teen youth to act as mentors and “big brothers” and “big sisters” to both individual children and young adolescents at risk. These mentors would be able to monitor the pulse of troubled peer patterns among teens and children.
Finally, older youth at risk should also be provided with special counselling, Elder advice and supportive friends or mentors drawn from trusted Elders and admired adults in the community. SOURCE.