'This is a crisis': 4th girl takes own life in northern Saskatchewan

A fourth young girl in northern Saskatchewan has taken her own life.

Sadness and disbelief at Prince Albert Grand Council annual assembly

In La Ronge, community members gathered to honour three girls who took their own lives in the past month. Indigenous leaders are calling it a crisis after a fourth girl killed herself in northern Saskatchewan. (Don Somers/CBC)

A fourth young girl in northern Saskatchewan has taken her own life.

Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Ron Michel told the crowd at the annual assembly Tuesday that a 10-year-old girl from Deschambault Lake had killed herself.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Kimberly Jonathan said there was a wave of sadness and disbelief that washed over the room.

"This is a crisis and we need to take action collectively," Jonathan said from Prince Albert. "Many of us met each other's eyes as we looked across the room with a feeling of wanting to fix this."

This comes as many people in northern Saskatchewan are still reeling after three girls, aged 12 to 14, also took their own lives in the span of four days. They were from Stanley Mission and La Ronge.

Jonathan said there was an honour song in remembrance of the girl and they also said prayers for the family and community.

"I want to make sure every step I take is going to be the right step to help solve this crisis," said Jonathan. "To [do] right by these children."

People came together in La Ronge, Sask. Friday night for a candlelight vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty, who is from Deschambault Lake, said it's hard dealing with the suicides of people so young.

"They have so much life to live and so much to look forward to," he said. "I think we have to come to terms with what's happening in our First Nations communities because a lot of things lead to that."

Beatty also said word about the suicides travels fast through social media, which makes it important for crisis teams to immediately deploy to work with peer groups of young people who take their own lives. He said the grand council has those resources available.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in on the matter.

"It's a tremendous tragedy in Saskatchewan," said Trudeau. "It happens all too often, too many young people losing their lives, which is why we continue to be committed to working with Indigenous communities across the country to deal with this ever-occurring tragedy."

Next steps

Both Stanley Mission and La Ronge have been on high alert the past week after identifying more than 20 other young people considered to be high risk to take their own lives.

Counsellors and therapists have been working around the clock trying to support the communities. 

"This needs to be on everyone's radar," said Jonathan. "It's not just the communities that have deceased children and youth. It's the entire province of Saskatchewan."

Deschambault Lake is part of the same health region as Stanley Mission and La Ronge, and is located approximately 240 kilometres east of La Ronge. 

The five-year average suicide rate for youth 19 and under within the Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority between 2010 to 2015 is 32.18 per 100,000 population, according to eHealth Saskatchewan.

Mental health resources are available through the region's Healthline at 811. Earlier this month, the federal government launched a toll-free number for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues. That number is 1-855-242-3310.

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention.

Here are some of the warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.

With files from The Canadian Press