La Loche, Sask. woman starts GoFundMe page to prevent Indigenous youth suicide

A La Loche, Sask., woman has started a crowdfunding page online to prevent Aboriginal youth suicide. / Screenshot

A crowdfunding page has been started by a woman with the goal of preventing Aboriginal youth suicide in northern Saskatchewan.

La Loche high school social worker Holly Toulejour said a man in his early 40s took his life just last month and that’s why this is important.

“Our community is very colonized. We are one of the communities in the north that were hit the hardest, that’s why we have high rates of suicide, crime, all those things but we’ve come this far – of course things could always be worse – but it’s because of our languages and culture,” Toulejour said on Monday.

READ MORE: Sask. First Nation leaders react to proposed national youth suicide prevention plan

The GoFundMe page was set up with the intention of taking a group of La Loche youth to experience the cultural camps at Bella Bella, B.C., and give them an opportunity to learn about the Heiltsuk Nation.

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Just like La Loche, Bella Bella has had their own dark past with suicide, according to Toulejour. The remote coastal community reconnected the youth with the land as a way to address their suicide crisis.

Toulejour read an article about Bella Bella and felt compelled to reach out and connect with them. During the October break, she paid her own way to drive out for a tour.

“We talked a lot about the value of the camps and why they don’t have suicides … there have been attempts but there haven’t been suicides there for 16 years, like that is amazing for a community which had the highest rates for suicides,” Toulejour said.

“I feel like we have a true nation-to-nation relationship … things we have in common are no jobs, all these challenges, but we all want to work towards reconnecting youth with their culture and the land and the language.”

READ MORE: Mental health professionals focus on schools in northern Sask. suicide crisis

The plan, once the crowdfunding goal of $5,000 is met, is for Toulejour to take her own vehicle and six youth to Bella Bella this month.

“If you check the page, we’re at like 65 per cent which is amazing. I wanted to cry when I saw that … we’re going to send cards to each [donor] with a picture and a little write-up of how grateful we are,” Toulejour said.
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“I mean, $5,000 seems like a lot but the ferry alone is like $250 per person there and back.”

Toulejour hopes the camp allows for a cultural exchange between youth.

“The [La Loche] youth will be trained to deliver presentations on our language, teach some words, sentences to the youth from Bella Bella … like how the language is one of the top-three hardest languages to learn in the world so that alone should make you proud to know that you speak Dene,” Toulejour said.

“Giving the youth a chance to talk about their culture, the history of how La Loche came to be and what our cultural practices were and how we live today. Most importantly – to share and have this exchange between the youth so they understand the impacts of colonization.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon woman sending letters of hope to northern Sask. during suicide crisis

Upon their return, Toulejour intends for their group to do a community presentation and share what they’ve learnt with La Loche.

Her dream would be to have a similar camp that she saw in B.C. teaching kids in northern Saskatchewan by next summer.

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“Like a truly authentic, Dene cultural camp where kids are immersed … they can leave knowing how to fish, clean the fish, smoke the fish, make dry fish, all those things that what happens in a hunt cause not everybody gets to experience that,” Toulejour said.

“People think ‘oh you’re up north, you must just be immersed in your culture.’ No. Why do you think people are dressed like they’re in a hip-hop video … even though we are in the north, we are in a remote area, we’re heavily influenced by the media.”

As of Tuesday evening, over $3,600 had been raised via the GoFundMe page.

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