Saskatoon

People come together following loss of 3 girls in northern Sask.

People are stepping up in northern Saskatchewan to make sure their community, the youth in particular, know they care after three young girls took their own lives in four days.

Community looking to offer new supports after suicides of 3 young girls

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

People are stepping up in northern Saskatchewan to make sure their community, the youth in particular, know they care after three young girls took their own lives in four days.

Two of the girls were from Stanley Mission. One was from La Ronge. All were between the ages of 12 and 14.

A candlelight vigil was held in memory of the girls Friday night at a gymnasium that is usually a place where youth in La Ronge gather.

Jody Ratt, who works with a number of youth in La Ronge, Sask., had tears in her eyes as she spoke about the fear of losing her friends. (Don Somers/CBC)

Jody Ratt works with them there.

"I could tell they were hurtin'," said the school and community recreation coordinator.

"It's scary and I don't want to lose none of my friends," she said with tears in her eyes.

Ratt said she feels she has a close connection with the youth she works with. However, Ratt said she knows there are a lot of youth in the community who don't have someone like her.

"I don't want to see nobody do this to themselves because I do love these kids."

While mental health and addictions services are available, as are youth workers, some people in La Ronge, Sask. say there isn’t much help for suicide or crisis intervention. (Don Somers/CBC)

'I don't know what more we can lose'

Not everyone in the community knew the girls who died. However, most still feel a connection to them somehow. 

"I'm looking at my 10-year-old and I'm just like, 'oh my god'," said Karen Sanderson, the executive director of the Piwapan Women's Centre in La Ronge.

Sanderson said she is one of many members of the community who continue to ask, "why".

"Cause everything was there. All of the tools. The love. The nurturing. Everything was there."

However, Sanderson said there are some things missing in the community. While mental health and addictions services are available, as are youth workers, there isn't much available for suicide or crisis intervention.

Karen Sanderson is executive director of the Piwapan Women’s Centre in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

According to eHealth Saskatchewan, the five-year average for the suicide rate of youth — aged 19 and younger — within the area's health region between 2010 and 2016 is 32.18 per 100,000 people.

When it comes to supports in the community, Sanderson said something is needed long term, as quick fixes aren't working.

"I don't know what more we can lose to bring the changes we need in this community."

Her centre has been at the table for meetings with groups like the La Ronge Indian Band who want to work on bringing the missing resources to the community.

Candlelight vigil in La Ronge Friday night

Love, care and concern

Some groups are coming forward in other ways.

The La Ronge Alliance Church opened its doors for people to go and make cards for the families of the girls who died.

"[People are] just expressing their love and care and concern on those cards," said Marion Lebelle, who attends the church.

Lebelle said she had seen a lot of talk on Facebook that people wanted to do something for the families. So she and a few others decided to invite everyone to make cards or write messages on murals.

"So it was adults and children, and everybody was busy making cards."

Adults and children came to the La Ronge Alliance Church to make cards and sign a mural in support of the families of the three girls who had committed suicide in the area. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Sheldon Merriman, who also attends the church, admitted that as he grew up in a white, middle-class family in La Ronge, he wasn't always aware of some of the issues other families faced.

Now, after working with an outreach program, Merriman said he's had his eyes opened.

"You have to speak with people. You have to be willing to go where people are at."

Merriman said thanks to his faith, he still has hope that good things will come out of the north.

In the time since the girls' deaths, the province has provided resources like additional counsellors and psychiatrists. It has also pointed out that mental health resources are available through the Healthline, at 811.

About the Author

After spending five years in radio, Courtney Markewich joined CBC Saskatoon in 2016. She is currently a Social Media News Editor/Presenter for @CBCSask and @CBCSaskatoon.

With files from CBC's Devin Heroux