Chiefs, families rally around Tristen Durocher as fast continues to push for suicide prevention
Chief says Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is working on new legislation
First Nations leadership and families from across the province gathered in Regina Tuesday in support of Tristen Durocher's Walking With our Angels camp in Regina, which he set up to call on the Saskatchewan government to take a stronger stand on suicide prevention.
Durocher started a ceremonial fast at the camp in Wascana Park on July 31, after he and his friend Chris Merasty walked more than 630 kilometres, from Air Ronge to Regina, to raise awareness about the issue and push the government for legislation.
He said the province's current suicide prevention plan, called Pillars for Life, lacks teeth because it's not entrenched in law.
Despite criticism, Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding said in a statement the government's current plan will continue.
"We will continue to engage the [Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations], Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, northern leaders and front-line workers to seek solutions to prevent suicide in communities across Saskatchewan," the statement said.
"Pillars for Life recognizes that solutions must be community driven and consider local history, economic and social factors."
Earlier this year, the government voted down a private member's bill aimed at creating a stronger suicide prevention plan.
Several chiefs spoke at the Tuesday event at Durocher's camp. Nearly all had a personal story about how suicide has affected their life.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says his organization is working with First Nations to draft new legislation that he hopes can be presented in the new year.
"It's inclusive.... We're getting feedback, and more importantly direction and recommendation, right at the First Nation level," he said.
Victor McDonald of Fond-du-Lac, Sask., lost one of his sons to a stabbing attack and one to suicide. After the stabbing death of his son, he moved his family to Saskatoon so they could get better help. For his other son, it wasn't enough.
"He's supposed to bury me, not [me] bury him," McDonald said.
McDonald said a main problem, especially in the north, is the lack of consistency when it comes to mental health care. A worker may be in a community for a short amount of time before they leave, and those seeking help have to start over with a new person. That makes it hard to open up, McDonald said.
Durocher said he has seen very dark times in his own life. It's the image of young people dancing to his fiddle music that has often kept him going, he said.
"I hope, I sincerely hope there will come a day when I play at more celebrations than grieving ceremonies, because it's time.… No more 'let it burn' policies from government. We cannot tolerate it," Durocher said.
"I see these children as one day standing up in the mornings as the teacher sings O Canada and saying, 'Oh Canada, you can do better.'"
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.
You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
With files from Guy Quenneville