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Makwa Sahgaiehcan chief ‘disappointed’ about lack of long-term suicide prevention plan

Makwa Sahgaiehcan chief criticizes government response to suicide crisis
WATCH: Makwa Sahgaiehcan chief criticizes government response to suicide crisis.

Makwa Sahgaiehcan Chief Ronald Mitsuing is leaving Regina disappointed that he doesn’t know what long-term suicide prevention options may help his northern Saskatchewan reserve.

The community, about 60 kilometres west of Meadow Lake, declared a state of crisis following three suicides, the latest involving a 10-year-old girl.

“Things are happening now, they can’t wait anymore. Kids are losing their lives and if they keep waiting it’s going to happen again,” Mitsuing said.

“These kids need help, and if they keep making excuses not to do anything —– it’s hurting the whole province.”

Mitsuing and the band’s CEO, Barry Chalifoux, met with Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding on Tuesday to talk about the crisis.

READ MORE: Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation declares state of crisis after 3 recent suicides

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During question period, Meili said there have been nine suicide attempts in Makwa Sahgaiehcan since the state of emergency was declared.

Kaeding said the government’s immediate goal is to get the situation under control. While this takes place, he said there are ongoing discussions about medium and long-term suicide prevention plans.

An immediate action Mitsuing wants to see are people sent in to train community leaders like teachers and elders how to recognize suicidal tendencies and signs of suicidal thoughts.

“Nobody’s trained in our community how to look for this stuff, and right now our teachers are also burning out. They’re stressed. Our community frontline workers are stressed. We have help, but it’s just short-term right now,” Mitsuing said.

Currently, there are 11 Saskatchewan Health Authority crisis workers in the community.

“We’ll have officials available for the community, as long as they need them, but eventually they will pull out of the community and then that’s when we need to start getting resources put into the community on a longer-term basis,” Kaeding said.

As for what comes next, Kaeding said he wants that to be community led.

“I would say it’s a little early in the juncture to determine what those services are, but that’s something that’s going to be community led and we’ll certainly have those conversations with officials,” Kaeding said.

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READ MORE: ‘Brighten their day’: suicide crisis sparks card-writing campaign to First Nation

The minister pointed to a number of suicide prevention resources that exist within the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.

With Mitsuing in the legislative assembly visitor’s gallery, Meili called on the government to support an NDP private member’s bill for a suicide prevention strategy.

Kaeding said the province will consider the bill, but they are currently doing a “cross-jurisdictional scan” of what other provinces are doing to address suicide. The goal is to adopt solutions that may fill gaps in Saskatchewan’s health system.

READ MORE: First Nations suicide rate 3 times higher than for non-Indigenous people: StatsCan

Mitsuing also called on the need for an immediate suicide strategy, as people in his community don’t have time to wait for this scan to be complete.

The chief added he is also disappointed in the federal government because they haven’t said what supports are coming yet.

Chalifoux said federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller offered condolences when the suicide crisis was declared. Chalifoux contacted Miller’s office on Tuesday, but said there is no update on what supports are coming or when.

Kaeding said he spoke with Miller Tuesday evening, and will be updating him on what supports are needed in Makwa Sahgaiehcan.

During an exchange in question period, Premier Scott Moe spoke directly to Mitsuing while he sat in the visitor’s gallery. The premier pledged to provide supports needed by Makwa Sahgaiehcan.

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“I’ll hold him to it,” Mitsuing said.

“If things can be fixed on my reserve, maybe we can share what’s learned and share it with the other communities who are suffering the same thing, but I’ll hold him to his word.”

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.