The Canadian government is putting $2.5 million dollars toward a suicide prevention strategy in Saskatchewan, but Chief Louie Mercredi says it’s not enough.
The leader of Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation was among the representatives of eight First Nations who met with federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller on Thursday.
The minister announced how over two years, the federal government will fund the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) as it develops a suicide prevention strategy and launches a grant program for communities.
Mercredi fears, though, the money will only be enough to support possibly one program for the FSIN’s 74 First Nations.
“There should be no dollar figure on human lives. We are tired of Band-Aid solutions for our people. We need long-term solutions,” Mercredi said.
In 2017, the FSIN developed a framework for the strategy. With a grant program, communities will be able to develop culture-based programs, services and activities to promote youth empowerment, health and healing, Miller said.
“We know that we need a suicide prevention strategy and mental health and healing strategies that go beyond what is already in place,” Miller said.
The funding is new money not already allocated in the government’s most recent budget, according to Miller.
The minister recalled how hours into taking on the Indigenous Service portfolio, he got a call that a girl in northern Saskatchewan had died by suicide. Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation subsequently declared a suicide crisis after three deaths in as many weeks.
“This is not the only call that I have received,” Miller said.
He later learned of suicides in Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, Fond du Lac, Hatchet Lake, Red Earth, and Ochapowace First Nations.
Through tears, Chief Margaret Bear of Ochapowace told reporters how her community has lost four “warriors, young men” to suicide since Sept. 14. The fourth was laid to rest last week, she said.
“It’s very difficult for my people back home, but we understand that we need to carry on and do what we can to help ourselves,” Bear said.
Saskatchewan Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding said the province recognizes that on-reserve health and other services are federal responsibilities. However, Fond du Lac’s chief said the province should match the federal government’s $2.5 million.
Kaeding said the province is doing a “jurisdictional scan” to see how other provinces address suicide prevention. It’s too early to say, according to Kaeding, whether the province will fund the FSIN’s strategy specifically.
“There’s a number of initiatives that we’ve started and we just need to continue with that work,” Kaeding said, promising ongoing collaboration with the federal government.
A report from Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor includes eight recommendations for health providers in northwest Saskatchewan when it comes to helping patients at risk of suicide.
The auditor determined health care workers in the area typically don’t receive “sufficient training on caring for suicidal patients, and training varies significantly.”
The issue isn’t simply money, according to Chief Ronald Mitsuing of Makwa Sahgaiehcan.
“We need people to come train our people so we can take care of ourselves,” Mitsuing said.
He considers Thursday’s federal funding “a good start.”
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.