FSIN calls for government funding to fight high suicide rates among Sask. First Nations people

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is seeking federal and provincial funding to fight patterns of self-harm and suicide among First Nations people in Saskatchewan. (Kayla Guerrette/CBC - image credit)
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is seeking federal and provincial funding to fight patterns of self-harm and suicide among First Nations people in Saskatchewan. (Kayla Guerrette/CBC - image credit)

From 2000 to 2020 in Saskatchewan, the rates of hospitalization for self-harm were significantly higher for First Nations people than everyone else, according to a new report by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).

"On average, rates were more than seven times higher for status First Nations females and over four times higher for status First Nations males," the report says.

The FSIN represents Saskatchewan's First Nations. It is seeking federal and provincial funding to reverse those patterns of self-harm with a life promotion proposal.

The FSIN's new report explores hospitalizations due to harm, assault, mental health and addictions, injury, motor vehicle accidents and falls from 2000 to 2020.

In a news conference Monday morning, many speakers shared their thoughts about, and experiences of, the worsening suicide crisis in their communities.

"The suicide and mental health crisis is another pandemic in itself," Ronald Mitsuing, Chief of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, said.

He noted that he lost his sister and a close friend to suicide during last year's holiday season.

"To the federal and provincial government, let's get a move on this. The signs aren't good out there."

Kayla Guerrette/CBC
Kayla Guerrette/CBC

The rates of hospitalization due to injury were highest in the two former health regions in Northern Saskatchewan and the Athabasca Health Authority, the report says. Meanwhile, the rates of hospitalization due to mental health and addictions were highest in Saskatchewan's three southernmost former health regions.

Ochapowace Nation Chief Okimaw Iskwew Margaret Bear said there are many factors that lead to suicides in her community. Ochapowace is about 150 kilometres east of Regina.

"Suicides were and are happening in my community in Ochapowace Nation. Mental health, addiction, gang activities and such issues are still there," Bear said.

"The fift of life — with a birth — is so beautiful, but when it comes to a life taken by suicide, it's very devastating."

Kayla Guerrette/CBC
Kayla Guerrette/CBC

Bear said families in many communities are still reeling from past suicides.

"I'm of a family that saw suicide. My sister took her life back in 1985 and to this date, we never ever got over it," she said.

"We understand the cycle of life, like when an elder may pass on due to natural causes, but when one takes their life due to suicide, it's very difficult to process."

In 2016, the rate of death by suicide among First Nations People in Saskatchewan was 4.3 times higher than the rate among others.

"Suicide has affected our communities, families and us as individuals," Headwoman Audrey Isaac from Ochapowace Nation said.

"I, my family, are affected also. Recently, another young man hung himself. We had suicide crisis line, supports, mental health therapists, addiction workers, but how does one move forward?"

Kayla Guerrette/CBC
Kayla Guerrette/CBC

Issac said the most accessible facilities often fill up, leaving many without resources. She wants rehabilitation and detox facilities, and clinical nurses, to be present in their community.

"Addiction is overwhelming in our community, but COVID-19 increased it. Now, we have to deal with drugs we don't know anything about," Issac said, noting there are two addictions workers in the community.

Bear said the FSIN's life promotion proposal will assist communities in recovering from the suicide crisis and addressing gaps in services.

She said many communities are still grappling with the aftermath of the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop and colonization.

"What happened to us back in the past was done by the federal system, and now what we need is the federal government's support to help our people to start moving together toward action."

CBC requested a copy of the FSIN's life promotion proposal, but did not receive it by the publication time.

The new report says that in the five-year period of 2016 to 2020, more than 1,300 status First Nations women were hospitalized for self-harm, compared to slightly more than 450 First Nations men, despite the populations being similar.

"Right now, the number 1 per-capita people in the entire world for self-harm and suicide is the Inuit. We are the second and on track to be number 1," David Pratt, Vice-Chief FSIN, said.

"It's time for action. We appreciate the investments from federal and provincial governments in the past. But now, we need long term sustainable commitments to create capacity at nation level."

Kayla Guerrette/CBC
Kayla Guerrette/CBC

The report says the regions with the highest likelihood for hospitalization were Northern Saskatchewan for women and the Saskatoon Health Region for males.

Pratt said that many mental health supports are sunsetting this year, meaning more action and critical investments are needed.

"We are ready to go. We just need the commitments and investments and then we will fix this terrible issue and prevent any more tragedy of our people taking their lives."