'Quit fighting and bickering,' Sask. chief says to feds, Sask., after northern suicides

Chief Ronald Mitsuing is calling on the federal and provincial government to put aside their differences and work together to address and implement a suicide strategy in the province.

'It's going to show the kids we know how to work together,' Ronald Mitsuing says

From left to right: Makwa Sahgaiechan band councillor Tommy Littlespruce, David Pratt with the FSIN, Chief Ronald Mitsuing and Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation chief Louie Mercredi. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation Chief Ronald Mitsuing wants federal and provincial governments to work together to address a suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan and he wants it quick.

Mitsuing said he has trouble sleeping at night not knowing if there will be news of another suicide or an attempt. The situation scares him.

"My people are in grief right now and they're also scared," Mitsuing said Thursday. "Our neighbouring reserves are scared."

There have been seven in the last two years alone — three of which occurred in recent weeks, including a 10-year-old girl who took her own life on Nov. 21.

"Please let's do something. Let's stop losing lives. We all love children — we should all try to save them."

Mitsuing said if the young people can see band leaders working together with government leaders, then it shows the kids that differences can be put aside for a good cause.

"As leaders, what we're going to focus on is trying to save these lives," he said.

"Quit fighting and bickering all the time. That's all I got to say. I just hope someone listens out there."

Suicide strategy already developed

The FSIN has developed its own suicide strategy, the Saskatchewan First Nations Suicide Prevention Strategy.

It says that people seeking help need to be able to choose the healers they're most comfortable with, whether it be a doctor, elder or a social worker.

The plan calls for culturally-appropriate mental health services, targeted suicide intervention, prevention and post-attempt initiatives which have been effective in other parts of the country.

Mitsuing said other reserves in northern Sask. are also dealing with suicide scares. They may require assistance as well from the governments, as did Makwa.

Tommy Littlespruce (right) says the mental health support workers which arrived on Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation were already overwhelmed. Some were sent home because band officials were concerned for their health, Littlespruce said. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

Another young boy tried to take his own life recently in Makwa Sahgaiehcan, said band councillor Timmy Littlespruce.

"Just imagine, every other day there's another attempt," Littlespruce said. He invited government officials for a tour of the reserve.

"We all know what we have to do. We know what the issue is and how we can fix it but we are handcuffed because there is no policies, there is no strategies and no funding."

Littlespruce said the workers who responded to Makwa Sahgaiehcan arrived and were overwhelmed. He added some of those workers have since been sent home because band officials were concerned for their health.

"There's no need to debate this. Kids are losing their lives," Littlespruce said. "Why are we debating an issue where kids are involved?"

No words

Louie Mercredi, chief of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation in northern Sask., said the situation is so dire that there are no words in Dene to express what Indigenous people are expericing.

"We as parents, as grandparents, we should not be burying our young people," Mercredi said.

Over the years, northern Indigenous communities have become uncomfortably familiar with frequent suicide and death.

Long-term solutions, not 'Band-Aid' solutions are needed, he added. Mercredi said there was a suicide attempt in Fond du Lac Wednesday night.

"If you're not helping us ... We are going to continue losing our people, our future generations," Mercredi said.

"It's an ongoing battle. We're losing."

With files from Radio-Canada