After an attempted suicide, woman hopes her story of recovery will inspire youth

More than 500 youth and their families are gathering in Saskatoon on Thursday and Friday for the Ignite the Life conference on suicide prevention.

Wynona Cenaiko among speakers at Ignite the Life conference in Saskatoon

Wynona Cenaiko will share her story Thursday at a Saskatoon suicide prevention conference. (Jason Warick)

Wynona Cenaiko sat on her bed, talking to her stuffed bear as she tried to take her own life.

The 15-year-old had endured a childhood of poverty, addiction and abuse of all kinds. She had been cutting herself regularly.

"I just couldn't get over the feeling inside that I was just sad, alone. I couldn't talk to anyone," she said in an interview Wednesday.

But Cenaiko woke up in her bed late the next day. She felt an immediate surge of relief, thankful to be alive.

She didn't tell anyone.

'I'm extremely proud of her'

Gradually, Cenaiko and her two brothers rose above all the ugliness. They resolved together to change their lives. None fell prey to alcohol or drugs.

Once she graduated from high school, Cenaiko got her education degree. She counselled kids and fellow students informally, using her own life as a cautionary tale.

"I tell them, 'Yes, maybe life sucks right now, but nothing lasts forever,'" Cenaiko recalled.

Wynona Cenaiko and her husband, Joshua, play with their two children in their Martensville home Wednesday. She'll share her story this week at a Saskatoon conference. (Jason Warick)

She's now a teacher at Saskatoon's St. Edward School. She's on maternity leave, caring for her new baby and three-year-old in the Martensville, Sask., home she shares with her husband, Joshua.

"What she had to deal with, at times it's difficult to talk about. We grow as a couple because of it," he said.

"I never had those experiences. It makes me a better person, knowing what some people have gone through, especially my partner. I'm extremely proud of her."

Ignite the Life conference

Cenaiko is set to share her story publicly for the first time on Thursday. More than 500 at-risk Indigenous and northern youth and their families are gathering in Saskatoon for the Ignite the Life conference.

Cenaiko was raised in Saskatoon but is a member of an Athabasca First Nation in northern Alberta. She said the feeling of hopelessness can be exacerbated in remote communities.

She hopes her message will inspire, but the real value of the conference is for the kids to meet each other. They'll see they're not alone.

The idea for the conference was sparked by the wave of suicides in northern Saskatchewan last fall.

"I knew that we had to do something," said conference organizer Treena Wynes.

She noted several hundred kids and parents were turned away because of space.

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said she's grateful to the organizers and to the thousands of people who have sent letters or other forms of support. Cook-Searson is also one of the scheduled speakers.

"There are so many people that want to reach out, that want to learn, to listen. There are so many things we could be doing. Maybe we need to do more," Cook-Searson said.

"There's such a high need. People want to help themselves."

If you need help

Mental health resources are available through the HealthLine at 811.

The federal government set up a toll-free number for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues: 1-855-242-3310. 

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


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.