'We don't want to lose any more youth,' FSIN chief says in wake of Fond-du-Lac suicides
Two teenagers in Fond-du-Lac have taken their lives, spurring calls for action on northern youth suicides
Fond du Lac residents are mourning the loss of two more young people, after a month of tragedy in the small northern Saskatchewan community.
Two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, have taken their own lives in the past two weeks, their deaths following a Dec. 13 plane crash that killed 19-year-old Arson Fern Junior.
There was another attempt earlier this week.
Advocates are saying more needs to be done to support youth living in northern communities like Fond-du-Lac.
"It's heartbreaking," said Bobby Cameron, chief of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The deaths of Indigenous young people keep happening, he says, with devastating results for families and their communities.
"We continue to pray every single day that we don't lose any more youth."
All-season road or upgraded airport needed
Cameron says Fond-du-Lac, with a population of fewer than 900, needs more programming for youth, improved mental health services, as well as better connections to the outside world. An all-season road, connecting it to the south, or upgrades to Fond du Lac's current airport would help, he said.
"It's a line to the rest of Saskatchewan because it's pretty remote," he said.
The province's advocate for children and youth says while young people talk about loving the freedom of Saskatchewan's northern wilderness, they also feel the impact from a life of isolation.
Corey O'Soup recently completed a special investigation into northern suicides. The government accepted his recommendations in December, which O'Soup said was a positive first step.
"But now it's time for more than just accepting. It's time for action, I believe," he said.
Trauma compounded by crises
In talking with youth from Saskatchewan's north, O'Soup said they raised similar concerns, including bullying, cyberbullying, misuse of drugs and alcohol and a lack of safety in their communities.
When a crisis like the plane crash happens, followed by youth suicides, it compounds the trauma that those communities are already experiencing, he said.
We really need to find a sustainable way to make a difference in our people's lives in the north.- Corey O'Soup, Advocate for Children and Youth
"They never have the chance to really fully grieve and recover," he said.
Governments are good at responding in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, but O'Soup says that youth notice when the extra supports disappear after a few weeks and nothing changes.
"We really need to find a sustainable way to make a difference in our people's lives in the north."
Wellness centre for north
Cameron notes Lac La Ronge is still wanting to build a $17-million wellness treatment centre, which would serve the north and communities like Fond-du-Lac.
He says he will be meeting with Minister for Indigenous Services Jane Philpott in Ottawa this month, at which time he says he will be pushing for improved services for Fond du Lac and other struggling communities. Fond du lac Chief Louie Mercredi is also scheduled to meet with the minister next week about the suicides.
But he says the other piece of the puzzle to prevent young people from taking their lives is to remind them they are not alone.
"We feel at a loss for words at times, but I mean we just got to continue to do what we can to remind the youth that they are loved," he said. "To the youth up there, 'We love you guys. You're important.''
Help line for mental health
Mental health resources are available through the region's Healthline at 811. The federal government has launched a toll-free number for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues. That number is 1-855-242-3310.