Saskatchewan

'We're not alone anymore': Christmas cards lining hallways at Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School

The cards were sent after the community declared a state of crisis when a young girl took her own life in November.

The cards were sent after the community declared a state of crisis when a young girl took her own life

Ceejay Fineblanket (left) and Aliyah Awowo (right) are both in Grade 12 at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A community stricken by suicide has received a flood of hope and laughter in the mail. 

Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation declared a state of crisis after a 10-year-old girl became the latest of several people who took their own lives.

Disheartened by the events, a former resident started a card writing campaign asking people to send the community Christmas cards

Cards have been flooding into the school ever since. 

"In the beginning, everything was so sad, there was barely students coming to school, teachers were quitting. Now, it's getting better. These letters helped a lot," Ceejay Fineblanket, a Grade 12 student at Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School, said.

The cards foster positive thoughts, she said. 

"It shows all the students and staff that people care and that we're not alone anymore."

Cards line the hallways at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School. The cards were sent from a variety of countries. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Aliyah Awowo, another Grade 12 student, said the cards changed the energy in the hallways. 

"I feel like our community is finally getting the help that we really needed for a long time," she said. "I just want to say thank you. You kind of changed our lives."

The letters came from far and wide: Vancouver Island, the U.K., Hawaii, Switzerland and more. 

Now the students are writing back. 

"I just want to say how thankful I am," Fineblanket said. 

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      The card campaign is a welcome gesture for Dorothy Angus, the mother of the 10-year-old girl who took her own life. One card came directly to her.

      "That really hit my heart. Knowing that there's a stranger out there that's thinking of me, thinking of us," she said.

      Angus is a support worker for children with special needs at the school, but has been away from work since her daughter died. She said she has had some counselling, but that it's still hard.

      "It's all the memories in our house, because we're still in the house that my daughter took her life in," Angus said. 

      She said it's been difficult to return to the school because she knows her daughter isn't there.

      Dorothy Angus lost her 10-year-old daughter to suicide in November. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

      Angus said the cards show that strangers can have an impact.

      "I see the love that has come to our community," she said. "It just fills up my heart. It just makes me happy. So I know that is making all the kids happy too."

      More needs to be done in the future, she said, including bringing in trained professionals to work with youth. 

      Cards are taped up and strung up at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

      Awowo and Fineblanket said they hope to see more youth engagement and sobriety in the community.

      "I think we should tear down the bar and put up something for youth," Fineblanket said.

      Linda Johnson, who started the card writing campaign, was at the school on Dec. 14 to see them all.

      "I was totally overwhelmed. You walk into the school and they already have so many cards up on display and taped to the walls and everything," Johnson said.

      Linda Johnson started the card writing campaign for her former community of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation. (Submitted by Linda Johnson)

      Johnson said she watched staff read a handful of cards to kids and pull up Google Maps to show where the messages were coming from.

      "There's stickers and words of love and encouragement from all ages," she said.

      "It's the best Christmas present I could ever ask for."

      Angus said she believes her daughter, Jaylen, has seen the cards from up above.

      "She's happy to see that this has gone worldwide and she's gone for a purpose — I truly believe that," she said. 

      Jaylyn Angus, 10, died by suicide on Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation on November 21, 2019. (Submitted by Dorothy Angus)

      Angus says she feels her daughter pushing her to work for change. 

      "Suicide isn't the answer," Angus said. "There is a purpose in life here for you."


      Where to get help:
      Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/ (chat)
      In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
      Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
      Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
      Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.

      With files from Bonnie Allan, Chanss Lagaden and The Morning Edition