The suicides of four young girls in northern Saskatchewan this month underscore the need for an immediate increase in funding to indigenous mental health services, say members of the provincial and federal NDP.
“Is this the crisis that will finally wake Canadians up? I hope it will,” Charlie Angus, the indigenous and northern affairs critic for the federal NDP, told reporters Friday in Saskatoon.
Angus was joined by NDP indigenous deputy affairs critic Georgina Jolibois, Saskatchewan NDP health critic Danielle Chartier and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) vice-chiefs Kimberley Jonathan and Robert Merasty. All stressed the need for First Nations communities to be given the resources they need to implement their own culturally-relevant plans to address mental health concerns.
“The north needs help,” an emotional Jolibois said. “We need multi levels of support that’s culturally rhttps://twitter.com/msandreahillelevant, recognized by our elders, because our kids are hurting.”
She pointed out that bands like the Lac La Ronge First Nation — which is sitting on a business plan for a $17-million wellness centre to help people struggling with alcohol and addictions — have had plans in place for years to help their people and just need financial support.
Though indigenous health care falls under the purview of the federal government, all gathered in Saskatoon said jurisdictional boundaries need to be abandoned in order to provide necessary assistance to youth in the north.
Two young girls from Stanley Mission and a third girl from the neighbouring town of La Ronge — aged 12 to 14 — took their lives over a period of four days in early October. Shortly after, northern Saskatchewan was rocked by news of a 10-year-old girl from Deschambault Lake, about 240 kilometres east of La Ronge, who had also taken her own life.
An emergency operations centre has been set up in La Ronge to assist those in the community, but those there say a long-term solution is needed.
MP for the Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River riding and federal deputy critic for Indigenous Affairs with the New Democratic Party Georgina Jolibois calls for an immediate increase in funding to indigenous mental health services following the loss of four young girls under the age of 14 to suicide in less than a month. (Andrea Hill/The Saskatoon StarPhoenix)
A joint statement issued by Health Minister Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, said they were “heartbroken” when they learned about the suicides.
“No community should ever be faced with circumstances that lead to their young people losing hope,” it said. “We are determined to work with First Nation youth and leaders, as well as the Government of Saskatchewan, on both the immediate response to this crisis and long-term community-driven solutions.”
The statement said both ministers are “working closely” with chiefs of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, alongside the community of Deschambault Lake “on the way forward.”
Alongside ensuring requested mental health workers are available, Health Canada also provided support for its partner organizations to enable seven mental health therapists to provide counselling in Stanley Mission to at-risk youth seven days a week.
This is on top of $34 million already provided to partners this year in Saskatchewan.
The statement highlighted the investment of $69 million to implement crisis response teams and increase the number of mental wellness teams available for First Nation an Inuit communities, including the creation of a toll-free crisis line in English, French and, if requested, Cree, Ojibway and Inukitut.
“Most importantly, we need to listen to the voices of our young people and to support their ideas on promoting a secure personal and cultural identity,” the statement said.
–With files from Morgan Modjeski
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