Sask. First Nation leaders react to proposed national youth suicide prevention plan
The message at Thursday’s Ottawa press conference was clear. Enough is enough when it comes to indigenous youth suicides across Canada.
Leaders are calling for a national youth suicide prevention plan.
“How many more families, friends and communities are going to go through this. The system is handcuffing and discriminating against our people. The culture has to change. When is enough?” Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon said.
In the last week, three indigenous youth have committed suicide in Ontario. Two of them were just twelve-years-old, both from the Wapekeka First Nation.
This same crisis is happening in Saskatchewan. In the fall five girls ranging in age from ten to 14-years-old took their lives.
“You have this triple threat. You have inadequately funded healthcare, education and child services. Those three things serve to suffocate the potential out of these children,” northern Ontario doctor, Mike Kirlew, said.
The deaths may have been avoided according to Solomon. He said the community of Wapekeka was preventing suicides with local programming up until funding was cut two years ago.
WATCH BELOW: First Nations leaders wonder if government is taking suicide crisis seriously
In July, First Nations leaders sent a letter to Health Canada pleading for more funding. But they were allegedly turned away because it was an ‘awkward time’.
“It has to be said, if these were white kids in a provincial school system on a provincial medical system and the government said it was an awkward time to help those kids. That’s why they died. People would be fired,” Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus said.
“Youth suicide among indigenous peoples is five-times the national average,” Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said.
“What price do you put on the life of a child?”
“There has got to be great effort put towards the development of this national strategy. We need to work with the communities. It has to be community based and driven. The answers are there they just need the support and resources to do that.”
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron agrees with Bellegarde. Although a national plan is a good start, it’s local and culturally relevant initiatives that will stop youth suicides.
“Each First Nation is unique. Each region is unique. We have to understand and acknowledge that. But we all do have common interests,” Cameron said from his Saskatoon office.
On Tuesday, the federal government reached a $348.8 million health funding agreement with Saskatchewan targeted at home and mental health care. Of that, $158.5 million will go to mental health initiatives in the province.
Cameron is hoping because indigenous people make up 15 per cent of the population they’ll get an equivalent amount of funding. That’ll be determined in a meeting in early February with Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter.
“We want one thing for our children and grandchildren and that’s the best quality of life. Through quality education and a healthy upbringing. That’s what we’re here to do,” Cameron added.
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