Where the federal and provincial governments have left a void, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations hopes to step in.
A press release issued on Sept. 11 states the FSIN is developing a Saskatchewan First Nations Suicide Prevention Strategy for release by May 31, 2018. Vice Chief Heather Bear made the announcement officially on Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.
“It’s just devastating in our communities right now, in terms of mental health and suicide as a whole,” Bear said in a phone interview with paNOW.
The development of a suicide prevention strategy was called for by chiefs from the 74 communities the FSIN represents. Bear said youth involvement was emphasized in the overall mandate. The FSIN’s youth council will have input on the strategy's development. Outreach work is being done within the communities who are part of the federation to gather more input.
Statistics show Indigenous people in Saskatchewan are 4.3 times more likely to take their own lives when compared to non-Indigenous people. Among Indigenous women between the ages of 10 and 19, the rates are 26 times higher than non-Indigenous women of the same age.
Bear wants to be a strong voice for Indigenous people in the creation of the new strategy. She has experienced multiple losses in her life to suicide, including a daughter who falls into the teen suicide category. She said it’s important to have a strategy developed by Indigenous people for Indigenous people.
“Knowing and living and understanding [suicide] is far different than looking at a statistic,” Bear said. “It’s pretty sad. We need something more. The system that’s there isn’t going to help or address mental health.”
The Vice Chief said the strategy which is created needs to rely on the knowledge of elders, culture, as well as sports and recreation. She said the FSIN will be consulting with communities who are tackling the issue head-on to see what’s worked and apply the best practises to their prevention strategy.
She cited her home community of Ochapowace as an example of a community which may have come across a solution; promoting and investing to benefit youth. She said the reserve, just outside of Regina, contains a sports multiplex, bustling community center, an arena and weight room, which has been successful in promoting life.
“It’s about giving our people a reason to live again… it’s about the future, and respecting life, enhancing life, embracing life. It’s about being empathetic to one another,” Bear said. “Our children need to know when one hurts, we all hurt, and there’s a solution to every problem and they can’t give up.”
Bear admitted the disparities which exist, like the funding gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, present a bigger challenge to overcome. She said she hoped to have both the provincial and federal governments on-board with the FSIN’s suicide prevention strategy.
“The crisis can’t wait to be addressed. I’m really pleased that we’re taking action, it’s not waiting for someone to come and do it for us, [we’re] just going ahead and doing it,” Bear said. “The Prime Minister has said the most important relationship is…. Nation-to-Nation, so I’m hoping his ministers and cabinet take action to that and respond when our proposal comes.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, you can contact the 24-hour Prince Albert Mobile Crisis unit at (306) 764-1011 or the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. Services are offered in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktuk by request 24/7.
Warning Signs of Suicide:
• Suicidal threats
• Statements revealing a desire to die
• Previous suicide attempts
• Sudden changes in behaviour (withdrawal, apathy, moodiness)
• Depression (crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, hopelessness)
• Final arrangements (such as giving away personal possessions)
Communities in need of mental health crisis counselling services can call 1-866-885-3933 ext. 4 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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