“It’s like a black cloud is over our reserve,” said Chief Ronald Mitsuing of the nation in western Saskatchewan.
There has been a death by suicide for the past three weeks in Makwa Sahgaiehcan – two of them were youths with the other being a young adult.
“We need someone to come in and train our people how to know what a person is thinking …. the kids they keep such good secrets you know. Even adults, they don’t tell you what’s bothering them, and next thing you know they’re gone,” said Mitsuing.
In three years, the community of 1,000 has mourned seven suicides, with the most recent suicide that occurred on Thursday evening being the youngest death.
“They’re not even mourning from one loss. They’re mourning from multiple ones,” said band leader Barry Mitsuing Chalifoux.
“We’re see community members not knowing how to talk about the situation. We have young children that don’t know who to talk to, or are afraid to talk.”
With so many deaths, the community is not equipped to deal with the crisis Chalifoux said.
He says that the nation’s registered psychologist, Bonny Peng is “overwhelmed” and “feels she cannot proceed further without immediate help,” while their secondary registered therapist also is overwhelmed and was closely related to the latest suicide.
Chalifoux says their health director also has recently suffered a close loss in her family.
“Our community support team is in need of immediate relief,” he said.
Chalifoux is asking for a crisis/counselling team to be dispatched for every school-aged child that has parental permission to be assessed, and for immediate funding to hire a “specified suicide support coordinator” and additional counsellors.
“Community professionals within the community have expressed dire concern for the welfare and future of those in our community,” he said.
“I really want the federal and provincial government to take this seriously. We need immediate funding to support what we’re doing here.”
A statement from the Saskatchewan government says officials have been in contact with Chief Mitsuing and other community leaders.
The statement says the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is prepared to offer the services of staff trained in suicide risk assessment. The Social Services Ministry is also working to find supports from various community based organizations if necessary.
The Education Ministry is also working to identify potential staff who can be redeployed to Makwa Sahgaiehcan is needed.
Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette said this highlights the need for a provincial suicide prevention strategy. The NDP MLA recently tabled a private member’s bill on the subject.
“We have to come up with a plan, some kind of provincial wide strategy to find out what we can do to help,” Vermette said.
This is Vermette’s second attempt to pass the private member’s bill. It previously did not receive government support.
“I don’t think I or anyone else has all the answers, but let’s take this on as a crisis and all work together; government, opposition, First Nations leaders, Metis, municipal leaders, front-line workers.”
With the recent suicides, Vermette is worried about seeing more as a spin-off. He said this was the case during a rash of six northern suicides in 2016.
“It impacts so many communities, and of course with social media and everyone else seeing it… It just causes, maybe young people that are feeling like it’s hopeless, I don’t know it just seems to create more people losing hope,” Vermette said.
“For me, I’ve seen how it goes from one to the next one, next one, next one. So hopefully we can work together, and do what they need to help surrounding communities.”
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) says they are working closely with the First Nation to provide crisis support, which includes counsellors, through the Meadow Lake Tribal Council Mental Wellness Team.
“ISC is deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life and offers its sincere condolences to the families and communities,” said Leslie Michelson, spokesperson for ISC in a statement.
“This loss of life is preventable and ISC is committed to working with the community to address the immediate and long-term mental health issues facing the community.”
Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation is located near Loon Lake, Sask., northeast of Lloydminster.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.