Sask. Premier Brad Wall visits northern communities to address youth suicide crisis

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has met with leaders in La Ronge, Sask., to discuss an alarming number of teenage and child suicides in recent weeks.

Leader of the Saskatchewan Party visits La Ronge, Sask., to hear from community leaders

Premier Brad Wall arrived in La Ronge, Sask., Wednesday to hear from community leaders like Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson about an alarming number of youth suicides. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has met with northern Saskatchewan leaders in La Ronge, Sask., to address an alarming number of youth suicides that have left the community in a "state of crisis."

The Saskatchewan Party leader travelled to the community Wednesday to meet with local leaders, along with the provincial advocate for children and youth, Corey O'Soup, and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron. 

Four girls between the ages of 12 and 14 took their own lives in the northern Saskatchewan towns of La Ronge and Stanley Mission in October.

A 10-year-old girl in Deschambault Lake and a 13-year-old girl in the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan also killed themselves last month. 

Their deaths have left communities in shock and put parents on edge, prompting Aboriginal and community leaders to call for urgent action to address the issue.

Government response

Wall, minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs Donna Harpauer and minister responsible for rural and remote health Greg Ottenbreit all stayed past the time the meeting was scheduled to end.

"We wanted to end the meeting when the work was done," Wall told reporters afterwards.

Premier Brad Wall said his meeting in La Ronge, Sask., Wednesday allowed him to learn how the response to youth suicides in the area has gone and also hear ideas of what can be done to prevent more. (Don Somers/CBC)

The premier said he went into the meeting ready to listen. Not only did he hear reports on how the response to the suicides have gone, Wall said he heard ideas of what else needs to be done to help people in the north.

"The solution here is family and community," he said. "We have to ask the question: What supports do families need here and do communities need?"

Wall said last week the government was looking at all options, and that suicide-prevention strategies were being developed with school divisions and health regions. 

An emergency operations centre has been set up in La Ronge to co-ordinate additional mental health resources sent to the area.

Wall said he wants to make sure needed supports are there: "We have a very tough budget right now in Saskatchewan but there's certain things for which you would say, 'Let's not worry about that.'"

NDP interim leader Trent Wotherspoon said not enough supports were offered to northern communities after the first three youths took their own lives. He mentioned long-standing inequities and inadequacies in the north.

"We've got a sixth suicide," he said. "What we're doing just isn't working. The supports just haven't been there."

Wotherspoon said long-term commitments needed to be made to address issues such as addictions and housing problems.

Finding solutions

Counsellors, academics, politicians and Indigenous leaders have all offered ideas for longer-term solutions since the first suicides in early October. 

More funding for after-school programs and recreation facilities were among the suggestions.  

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Bob Merasty said there should be more facilities like the White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Saskatoon. 

FSIN vice-chief Bob Merasty said proactive suicide prevention resources must be put in place. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Youth worker Tara Arcand, who has worked at the centre for almost two years, said it gives youth a sense of purpose. 

"For most, I feel like it's something that's the most stable thing in their life because it's such a routine program that we have from Monday to Friday, that every day after school they come here for three hours," she said. 

"We provide them with a snack and meal, some one-on-one time, a time to really reflect on the day when we do smudge ... connecting with each other."

On Dec. 5 and 6, the FSIN will hold a conference for First Nations youth in Prince Albert, Sask., to brainstorm solutions. 

Elders, leaders and experts will also be present to discuss colonization, cultural pride and practices that have worked in their communities.

FSIN chief Bobby Cameron and Prince Albert Grand Council Chief Ron Michel will also travel to La Ronge this week.