Fond-du-Lac needs support as 'suicide crisis' grips community, says Sask. NDP

The Saskatchewan NDP says the Chief of the Fond-du-Lac Dene Nation wants more support from the provincial government following a plane crash in the community that claimed the life of one man last year.

Multiple suicides since fatal plane crash

Fond-Du-Lac Dene Nation Chief Louis Mercredi told NDP MLA Buckley Belanger the community is struggling to overcome the tragic plane crash that claimed the life of one resident. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan NDP says the Chief of the Fond-du-Lac Dene Nation wants more support from the provincial government following a plane crash in the community that claimed the life of one man last year.

NDP MLA Buckley Belanger said Fond-Du-Lac Dene Nation Chief Louis Mercredi told him the community is struggling to overcome the tragedy.

Arson Fern Jr., 19, was one of 25 people aboard a plane that crashed on Dec. 13 shortly after takeoff.

He had been critically injured and was treated at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon but later died.
Arson Fern Jr. was one of 25 people that was aboard a West Wind Aviation flight that crashed on Dec. 13, in Fond-du-Lac, Sask. The 19-year-old died of injuries sustained in the crash. (Fern family/GoFundMe)

The province had three mental health therapists in Fond-du-Lac after the crash. One of the therapists has returned to Black Lake. One is still working at the Fond-du-Lac local clinic and the other is at the local school.

The government says it has met with community leadership to discuss a longer term plan of support.

On Tuesday, Belanger stood during question period and said there have been multiple suicides in the community after Fern's death. He asked the government for more support for mental health services.

"Many in the community felt that trauma and are continuing to struggle," said Belanger. "Chief Louis Mercredi of the Fond-du-Lac Dene Nation is quite upset that no help is coming forward for his entire community."

"Fond-du-Lac is not alone," continued Belanger.

"Across the north, there is a suicide crisis taking place. When will this government finally take action and provide meaningful mental health supports that are so vitally needed so that my colleague from Cumberland and I can stop having so many funerals to go to."

NDP leader calls for meeting on mental health, airport

Greg Ottenbreit, Minister of Rural and Remote Health, said the government is investing in northern Saskatchewan but admitted there is more to do.

He said the provincial government is working with federal and First Nations leaders to coordinate a response.

"It's heartbreaking, it doesn't matter where you are in the province, when you hear someone has lost their life much too soon, especially when it's to suicide," said Ottenbreit.

"We want to make sure that people know that when there is a time of crisis there are supports in place."

Ottenbreit referred to the Saskatchewan Healthline. He said the Ministry of Health has trained 93 human services staff in mental health first aid, 228 in applied suicide intervention skills training and another 46 in safe talk protocols.

A community suicide prevention coordinator was also hired to serve the north.  
The left passenger door of the aircraft after it crashed shortly in Fond-du-Lac. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Sask. NDP leader Ryan Meili said the provincial government must do more. He said the people of Fond-du-Lac are not only struggling with Fern's accidental death, but also other traumas and stresses and the use of an airport he argued is not sufficient.

"I think it really is important for this government to meet with Chief Mercredi and be talking about both how they can support from a mental health point of view, but also from an infrastructure point of view," Meili said.

Airport upgrades called for

In addition to increased mental health supports, the NDP said the community is also asking for improvements to the Fond-du-Lac airport.

The province said it has spent $1 million for operations and maintenance over the past five years.

"We're in the process of hiring an engineering firm to design the lengthening, widening and resurfacing of the airport runway in Fond-du-Lac," said a government spokesperson.

The province said the project will involve the Fond-du-Lac Dene Nation and the federal government.