Band councillor on Sask. First Nation says suicide crisis is emerging amidst pandemic

Dustin Ross Fiddler of Waterhen Lake First Nation said a 14-year-old girl recently died by suicide and that the band is aware of other recent attempts.

Family of 14-year-old girl who died by suicide says pandemic may have been a factor

Waterhen Lake First Nation is about 40 kilometers north of Meadow Lake, Sask. (Submitted by Dustin Ross Fiddler)

A band councillor for a Saskatchewan First Nation is speaking out after a rash of suicide attempts in the past few weeks on his reserve. 

Dustin Ross Fiddler of Waterhen Lake First Nation said a 14-year-old girl recently died by suicide and that he is aware of 10 other recent attempts.

"There's always the cases that we don't know about or they haven't brought to our attention and that's also what worries me," he said.

The chief of the First Nation Carol Bernard issued a statement late Wednesday evening that said local healthcare professionals were only aware of two attempts — both adults.

The statement also said that as a result of an inter-agency meeting Wednesday, a community intervention plan has been developed to help people who may be dealing with pandemic-related stress.

Tyquaisha Ernest Fiddler liked doing everything and was a good, caring girl, her mother said. The 14-year-old died by suicide after COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. (Submitted by Jana Fiddler)

Fiddler said he thinks issues the band had before COVID-19 have been compounded by added pressures and the lock down caused by the pandemic. 

Waterhen Lake First Nation has checkpoints as people enter and leave the First Nation. Families are only allowed one person per week to leave the First Nation for groceries, Fiddler said.

There are no known COVID-19 cases on Waterhen. 

"The shock of the whole situation is subsiding a little bit and we're able to look at a bit more of the issues that were ignored or we overlooked," Fiddler said. "One of them was definitely our mental health." 

Many programs were cancelled or suspended when the pandemic started. Fiddler said not being able to go out and meet with people also has an effect on people's mental health. 

"It brings up a tough question, but it has to be asked: What is more dangerous at the moment? Is it a growing virus or is it our mental health deterioration?"

We're not sure of just how bad this is going to get.- Dustin Ross Fiddler

Health workers met with Waterhen Chief Carol Bernard Wednesday to discuss if the First Nation should declare a state of emergency. They to decided wait, further assess the situation and build a strategy, Fiddler said. 

A state of emergency would allow the First Nation to ask the provincial and federal governments for extra support and support workers. Fiddler said the option is still on the table and will be up to the Chief and health professionals.

"We're not sure of just how bad this is going to get. And we don't want to wait until it gets to a certain point before we call a state of emergency," he said. 

Dustin Ross Fiddler is a band councillor at the Waterhen Lake First Nation. (Dustin Ross Fiddler/Facebook)

Fiddler said the community has youth programming and mental health staff in schools when they are open, along with wellness coaches and support from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, but that more might be needed. 

Tyquaisha Ernest Fiddler was the 14-year-old girl who died by suicide. 

"She liked doing everything," Jana Fiddler, Tyquaisha's mother, said. "She was a good kid — caring." 

Tyquaisha Ernest Fiddler would go to gospel rallies, enjoyed jigging and loved to draw since she was about seven or eight, her mother Jana Fiddler said. (Submitted by Jana Fiddler)

Jana said Tyquaisha would go to gospel rallies, enjoyed jigging and loved to draw.

The lockdown, and the inability to go to school, may have contributed to Tyquaisha'a low self-esteem, Jana said. She noticed her daughter's mental health deteriorate after the pandemic forced the First Nation's school to close in March.

"This is my girl I lost and I will never see again and what hurts the most is that I will never know why," Jana said, adding that she was able to donate her daughter's organs to help save the lives of six other people.

Tyquaisha's sister, Angel Blue Fiddler, said Tyquaisha used to sing loudly around the house and now their home feels too quiet. She said Tyquaisha loved animals down to the tiniest little bug. 

"She was such an awesome artist. She loved to draw anime," Angel said. 

"We all miss her very much. It's all so hard for all of us because one of us is gone, life will never be the same without her here with us."

Tyquaisha Ernest Fiddler loved to draw anime, her sister Angel Blue Fiddler said. (Submitted by Jana Fiddler)

Fiddler said it was tough on the family because they were not able to have a large traditional ceremony. 

"They had to make all the extra calls about who could attend the funeral, how small it had to be, who could come from off-reserve, on-reserve. And that's so tough for a family that's grieving and saying goodbye to a loved one to have to take on the extra burden," he said. 

Other people who have attempted suicide vary in age from youth to those in their 50s, Fiddler said. 

"We're very grateful that they're still here and we can offer them any support they need and really try to bring them back around and ask them these hard questions," he said. "What what could we have done better?'" 

I don't want to lose any more friends or relatives or see a family grieve.- Dustin Ross Fiddler

Fiddler said it is tough to discuss mental health during the pandemic because it can be seen as going against physical distancing. He said he's not advocating for that and instead is hopeful that soon people who haven't left the First Nation can get together and support each other, even if they have to maintain physical distance. 

"I don't want to lose any more people on my First Nation. I don't want to lose any more friends or relatives or see a family grieve. If we can get ahead of this and stop this before that happens then I'm all for it."

Saskatchewan suicide prevention plan released during pandemic

The provincial government released its new suicide prevention plan on Friday last week. 

Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan is meant to co-ordinate activities to promote life and reduce risks related to suicide. It examines the high suicide rate among northern Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, particularly young girls. 

"Mental health continues to be a high priority for our government, our health system and our communities," Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding said in a statement. 

"This plan will guide activities specific to suicide prevention based on Saskatchewan's context. It was informed by careful consideration of approaches across the country and international best practice."

Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth, called the plan a good first step and said she is cautiously optimistic.

Broda said there is still a lot of work to do around the economic factors that affect mental health. 

"You're speaking of poverty, lack of jobs or education," she said. "Some of that is correlated to substance misuse, and then you have trauma — all of those factors you know are underlying."

Lisa Broda is the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth. (Submitted by Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth)

The plan will need investments and resources, and there may be delays, Broda said, but she's looking to the Ministry of Health for concrete forward steps.  

"We need to understand what the action is behind the plan and how we can ensure that there's some timely action," she said. "Our kids can't wait — they should be at the centre of this."

Sally Ratt, who lost her daughter to suicide almost four years ago, called the plan "a good start." 

"It's not exactly what we asked for but with a plan in place I think we could be able to move forward," she said. 

Sally Ratt lost her daughter Ariana to suicide about four years ago. (Submitted by Sally Ratt)

Ratt has been advocating for a suicide prevention plan for years. 

"For me it's my healing," she said. "I find it helps me." 

Ratt said she was hoping to see a more concrete plan. She said her own late-daughter had to wait too long to get help. 

"I had to take her to the hospital a few times because she OD'd," Ratt said. "Then even during that time the mental health worker upstairs didn't come down because they were so busy." 

Sally Ratt's daughter Ariana died by suicide. Now Sally advocates for suicide prevention. (Submitted by Sally Ratt)

Ratt said more mental health workers are needed, especially in the north. She said that, during the pandemic, suicide attempts and mental health issues have increased. She said her nine-year-old has also become depressed. 

"I am really scared for his mental health," she said. "He does need to talk to [a professional]." 

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there.

​​​For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.

You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566, the Regina Mobile Crisis Services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

Kids Help Phone can be reached at 1-800-668-6868 (phone) and live chat counselling at

With files from Bonnie Allen and The Morning Edition