Vigil, card campaign rally behind northern Saskatchewan kids
'We feel somewhat powerless,' says La Ronge resident about recent youth suicides
A vigil more than 250 people strong and a card-writing campaign are among the ways Saskatchewan residents are rallying behind northern communities that are in a state of crisis after a string of youth suicides.
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Tuesday night in La Ronge, Sask., NORTEP students organized a vigil on the site of the last residential school in the community.
April Chiefcalf, who works with students in the NORTEP program and attended the vigil, said there was "definitely a feeling of despair."
But, she added: "On the one hand you're feeling that sadness and at the same time seeing many people coming together. It showed the solidarity as well."
Chiefcalf saw many of the kids who were friends of the young girls who took their lives.
"They're devastated, and struggling how to move forward from this," she said.
La Ronge was once again stunned on Sunday when a sixth girl in northern Saskatchewan took her own life.
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Chiefcalf described it as being punched in the stomach.
"We feel somewhat powerless," she said. "We feel we don't know what we can do to help the kids."
But for as powerless and helpless as Chiefcalf and many are feeling, she said it's crucial to be talking to as many students as possible.
"We think as adults we have all the answers but we need to talk to them more," she said.
Chiefcalf moved to La Ronge 15 years ago and isn't leaving anytime soon. But for as much as she has fallen in love with what the north has to offer, she said it has been devastating to watch the systematic ripping apart of the community through the cutting of programs.
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"The resources in the north have been slowly taken away so you don't really notice it," she said. "It's having an impact on the kids. They're at the tail end of all those things."
Cards of support
Fran Forsberg woke up on Tuesday feeling helpless but resolved to let young people in northern Saskatchewan know how much people are thinking about them.
She has now started a card campaign out for Grosvenor Park United Church in Saskatoon to let kids know "they're not alone."
For the next week, Forsberg is offering cards to anyone who wants to stop by the church and write a message to kids living in La Ronge and nearby communities.
Forsberg said at least 12 other Saskatoon churches will be handing out cards during their Sunday services.
Forsberg is also hearing from people as far away as Toronto. She said two schools there sent her messages expressing support and told her students would be writing cards.
"I hope to have boxes and boxes and boxes to send to these kids," she said.
This cause is personal for Forsberg. She adopted eight children who are Plains Cree and who are similar in age to the girls who have taken their own lives.
"We're hoping and fighting for change for those kids," said Forsberg, who is also encouraging people to contact their members of Parliament.
"We need to honour our commitments to First Nations children."
More than anything, it's Forsberg's hope the cards give some level of comfort during what has been a nightmare for many in northern Saskatchewan.
"I want them to know that they matter: That there's people out there that care about them," she said.