Saskatchewan First Nation in suicide crisis; leaders want prevention plan

Saskatchewan First Nation in suicide crisis; leaders want prevention plan

LOON LAKE, Sask. — Leaders of a northern Saskatchewan First Nation struggling with a suicide crisis say there needs to be a regional strategy to prevent such deaths.

The Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation at Loon Lake is concerned about “cluster suicides” in the community, about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Band leadership says eight people, mostly youth, have tried taking their lives since the First Nation declared a state of crisis last week.

That came after three suicides, including one by a 10-year-old girl, over three weeks.

Band CEO Barry Chalifoux says extra mental-health and addictions staff from the Saskatchewan Health Authority are in Loon Lake to provide immediate relief.

But he adds a long-term commitment is needed.

“What’s going to be hard after this is these kids are going to need ongoing counselling and therapy. Parents are going to need support as well,” Chalifoux said.

“What we’re experiencing right now is multiple youth attempting (suicide). We’ve had to respond to these situations and hospitalization has had to happen.”

Chalifoux and Chief Ronald Mitsuing plan to head to Regina to lobby for a regional suicide prevention program.

Mitsuing has said that the community and its front-line workers need immediate help from local, provincial and federal governments.

In the fall of 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called several suicides by children in northern Saskatchewan a tragedy.

A 10-year-old girl in Deschambault Lake had taken her own life not long after the suicides of three girls between 12 and 14, who had died in a span of four days. The girls were from Stanley Mission and La Ronge.  

Trudeau said it was all too common for young Indigenous people to take their own lives.

“We continue to be committed to working with Indigenous communities across the country to deal with this ever-occurring tragedy,” he said at the time.

Earlier that year, a string of suicide attempts in Attawapiskat in northern Ontario garnered international media attention when the Cree community declared a state of emergency. (CKOM, The Canadian Press)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 26, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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