Father, son reflect on importance of family at suicide prevention conference

Attendees say real value of the conference is getting to speak with fellow at-risk youth.

More than 500 northern and Indigenous youth and their families attending Ignite the Life

Arnold Custer (right) said he is blessed to be able to take his son, Keatson Ratt (left), on fishing and moose hunting expeditions. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Eleven-year-old Keaston Ratt caught several walleye with his dad last week, but the outing wasn't just about the fish.

Keaston, who is blind, and his dad say the best part is the time they spend in the ice fishing shack with each other.

If you're thinking that way, tell someone. Let out the words.- Keaston Ratt

"I am so blessed," said Keaston's father, Arnold Custer.

"We all need to get back to these traditional activities, traditional gatherings."

Keaston and his father are among more than 500 northern and Indigenous youth and their families at the Ignite the Life conference on suicide prevention at the Saskatoon Inn Thursday and Friday.

They heard from elders, suicide survivors, social workers and other experts. The real value of the conference, say most people interviewed, is chatting with fellow at-risk youth. They see they're not alone, whether they live in Wollaston Lake, Prince Albert or Saskatoon.

Custer, a chaperone and "prevention worker" for the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, said mental health supports are only part of the solution to the suicides in some of the province's most vulnerable communities.

Getting back to traditional Indigenous activities is central, as is family time, he said.

That's why the father and son go on frequent fishing and moose hunting expeditions. They've made the 10-hour drive more than once to see Keaston's beloved Calgary Flames.

Arnold Custer (right) said he's gotten some good ideas from the the Ignite the Life conference on suicide prevention, which he is attending with his son, Keaston Ratt (left). (Jason Warick/CBC)

Custer said he enjoys every minute he spends with his children.

Despite their healthy unit, suicide has affected their extended family. A few years ago, Keaston's cousin took her own life after her mother was killed in a car accident.

The entire clan gathered in Prince Albert to support each other in mourning. It was sad, but beautiful to see everyone together, Custer said.

One lesson he's learned from the conference is to encourage families and communities to gather more during the happy times.

"I'm getting some really good ideas here," Custer said.

Just before they leave for the day, arms around each other, Keaston offers words of advice for kids who may be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.

"If you're thinking that way, tell someone. Let out the words."


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.