Saskatchewan

He walked 635 km to Regina and is going on a hunger strike to raise awareness about suicide

The Walking With Our Angels founder is beginning a hunger strike upon arriving at the Saskatchewan Legislature until meaningful legislation is passed.

Walking With Our Angels was started by Tristen Durocher and Chris Merasty

Tristen Durocher and supporters walked through Regina to the Saskatchewan Legislature on Friday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

A group of people walking in response to the government's denial of a suicide prevention bill arrived in Regina on Friday. 

Walking With Our Angels was started by Tristen Durocher after a bill created by an NDP MLA representing northern Saskatchewan was voted down. The bill would have required the provincial government to recognize suicide as a health and safety priority and the province would have had to recognize suicide as a public health issue. 

Durocher and Chris Merasty — the founder of a support group in La Ronge — began walking from Air Ronge on July 2. They walked the 635 kilometres to Regina. Durocher said when he arrives at the Legislature, he plans to begin a hunger strike until meaningful legislation is passed. 

"This day is going to be beautiful," he said. "We have a lot of supporters that have been with us for a long time, that have been supporting us online with donations and that have even driven supplies out to us during the journey. ...

"So it's like all of the background people that we're helping push us to this point have actually come out to join us for this last little leg of the walk and it's so nice to see all of their faces," Durocher said. 

Tristen Durocher addresses the crowd of supporters after a smudge and song ceremony before beginning the walk through the City of Regina. Durocher will be on a hunger strike until meaningful legislation is passed. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Durocher said the walk through the centre of Regina is meant to educate the public. 

"This is going to show people how much people actually care," he said. "But beyond just words and lip service, are actually trying to make a difference, are actually walking and not just talking. This is about action. ...

"The government doesn't need to be made aware about what's going on. They know exactly what's going on and they're still doing nothing," Durocher said. "This is the public's education because that's who votes in the indifference that currently occupies our hall of power."

The Walking With Our Angels group asked families to send in the names and images of those lost to suicide. Those names were written on a banner carried through Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The provincial Minister Responsible for Rural and Remote Health wrote a letter to Durocher on Wednesday. Warren Kaeding wrote he is offering to arrange a meeting between himself and Durocher at Durocher's convenience.

"I recognize that the tragic loss of a person by suicide is felt by family, by friends, and by the entire community," Kaeding wrote. "Addressing suicide is a priority for our government. We are committed to providing quality health services to support all residents of the province. 

Kaeding also pointed to the Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan that was released in May 2020. 

Supporters of the Walking With Our Angels group started the last day of the walk with them and more joined throughout the City of Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Durocher said he wants to meet with the Minister but not for a private discussion. 

"That, to me, is not constructive at all. I don't speak on behalf of the entire north," Durocher said. "Who he should be meeting with are the people who work with the oppressed demographics. ... He'll meet with the collective or he won't meet with me at all."

About 40 supporters started walking with the Walking With Our Angels group near the Regina Weigh Scales. More supporters joined as the group walked through Regina on Friday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

On the Walking With Our Angels Facebook Page, Durocher also asked families to send in images of people who have lost their lives to suicide. So far, the page has received almost 100 images. 

"Some of them were as young as 10 years old," he said. "Some of them were school photos and a lot of them, you could just see so much light and happiness and love and hope in their eyes. It was easy for them to mask what was underneath that." 

Durocher said it's important to take time with youth or anyone who is struggling and be with them. 

Members of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation walked with the Walking With Our Angels group. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service reported 2,338 people have died by suicide from 2005 to 2019 in the province. Twenty-eight per cent of those people were Indigenous. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016 Indigenous people made up 16.3 per cent of the population in Saskatchewan.

Durocher said the images they've received are only "the tip of a very large iceberg that should horrify people." Durocher plans to set up a portrait gallery with the submitted images of people lost to suicide to show the faces of those who have passed. 

Chris Merasty is the founder of Men of the North, a support group based in La Ronge, and one of the walkers with Walking With Our Angels. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

To anyone considering suicide or having suicidal thoughts, Durocher said he wants them to know that there are people who love them. 

"There are a lot of people that need you here. There are a lot of people that if you spoke to them and asked for help would probably help you and there is so much pain left behind when you take your life that way," Durocher said. "All that pain stays behind with everybody they love. Don't leave them that burden. We have enough."

With files from Jennifer Francis

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