The Current

'Our kids are suffering': Finding solutions to Sask. youth suicide crisis

The tragedy of losing too many young lives in many First Nations communities is a crisis that needs a solution. The Current asks what separates Indigenous communities that have high suicide rates from those that do not, and what can be done to fix this.
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)

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In October, six young girls — the youngest was just 10 — took their own lives in north Saskatchewan.

Amidst the shock and sorrow in the wake of these deaths are calls for change — and calls for more supports in northern communities.

A week into his new job, Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth Corey O'Soup calls the youth suicide crisis his first priority.

"We need to listen to the students, to the kids, to the children ... they're the ones that are going to tell us, you know what's happening, and why things are the way they are," O'Soup tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Solutions aren't going to come from Regina, or Saskatoon. They're going to come from the community, they're going to come from the parents, they're going to come from the local leaders, they're going to come from the elders."

O'Soup says all kids are at risk.

"Our kids are suffering through mental health issues and it doesn't matter you know how much money you have or how much money you don't have. It's a tragedy."
Indigenous communities that have preserved their cultural identities tend to have lower suicide rates, says University of Victoria psychology professor Chris Lalonde. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

University of Victoria psychology professor Chris Lalonde agrees. He's looked at how unemployment and economic factors correlate to suicide and found they don't.

"I think in some ways that's just an indication that if this was a problem that could be solved by just creating jobs, or something, it would have been solved a long time ago but it hasn't."

Lalonde tells Tremonti that after researching suicide rates by band, he found that more than half have no suicides.

He says the communities who were able to hang on to their cultural traditions and control "their own kind of civic and political futures" protected youth by creating environments where "youth can grow and flourish."

"[If] we can support communities in their efforts to promote culture, we can promote health."

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, the minister of Indigenous affairs' special representative on child welfare, tells Tremonti that legacy is also an important factor in the discussion to find solutions to this crisis.

"Legacy goes back to the historic trauma that was experienced in many of our communities, especially in the north where it hasn't necessarily been adequately dealt with."

When it comes to resources, Wesley-Esquimaux says the communities need to have input into where the money goes from talking to grandmother circles, Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies, to the youth and community about the kinds of needs they have, and where the gaps are from their perspective.

"I think kids have a right to be heard and their voices traditionally have not been."

Wesley-Esquimaux suggests bringing together a circle that includes kids from all backgrounds to talk about their experience.

"That's the way to do this if we're going to have reconciliation."

"It's the kids in this country that are going to carry that forward."

Listen to the full segment.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath, Sujata Berry and Julian Uzielli.