N.W.T. gov't rejects motion for regional suicide prevention funds

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, where MLAs passed a motion in October calling for the territorial government to establish regional suicide prevention funds. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, where MLAs passed a motion in October calling for the territorial government to establish regional suicide prevention funds. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The N.W.T. government says it won't create new suicide prevention funds for each region of the territory, but it's looking at ways to make it easier to access existing funds.

The decision means it's rejected a motion passed by MLAs during the Legislative Assembly's fall session calling on cabinet to create regional funds. The idea was to let each region's leaders choose where the money goes without having to deal with a pile of paperwork or multiple funding pots.

The motion suggested a yearly amount of $250,000 per region.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Julie Green said the government can't give out money unless it receives a proposal and reports on where the money goes.

She said the government already has a suicide prevention fund that doesn't require a big application or reporting process.

"I don't see that as a barrier to people implementing their suicide prevention activities," she said.

That fund has $225,000 for projects each year across the territory, with a cap of $45,000 per project. Green said last year, all that funding was allocated.

It went to nine different projects, including the youth-led House of Hope in Tuktoyaktuk and bringing former NHLer Jordin Tootoo into the community to speak with youth.

Mario De Ciccio/CBC
Mario De Ciccio/CBC

Gov't floats idea of block funding

The Department of Health and Social Services is looking into other ways to make it easier to access funds, according to a written response from the department on the motion, tabled Feb. 28.

Green said if the government lumps together funding for on-the-land programming, peer supports and addiction recovery, for example, groups could apply for related projects once instead of submitting different applications for each.

The Feb. 28 response from her department only discusses improving the flow of funds for Indigenous governments.

Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, who brought forward the now-rejected motion, said she'd like to see other groups benefit from that too.

"I think it's important that the government recognize an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed for suicide prevention and extend this option to NGOs as well," she said in an email, pointing specifically to HomeBase Yellowknife, the Western Arctic Youth Council, AYDA Women and Northern Mosaic Network as examples.

Sidney Cohen/CBC
Sidney Cohen/CBC

Cleveland said the standing committee on social development, which she chairs, plans to table more recommendations next week on suicide prevention, developed from discussions with youth-led and youth-focused organizations.

"This is a second chance to provide people with the care they need and we cannot afford to waste it."

At the end of last year, the territory's chief coroner released early data on suicide rates that he called alarming.

Twenty-nine people in the N.W.T. died by suicide between January 2021 and October 2022. Eighteen of those deaths were in 2022.

Green said she would also like to see more resources for regions of the territory developed by the regions themselves. 
She pointed an Inuit suicide prevention strategy that the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation developed with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

"[It has] regional approaches to evaluating suicide risk in their own terms, not in medical terms, but in terms of thinking, 'Well, this person has had another suicide in their family, so they may be more at risk,'" she said.

Green said she'd like to be able to support more regional governments to do the same.

To do that, she said her department needs to be more deliberate in helping people take those steps.

She said the department would have to develop a new fund or develop new guidelines that more actively engage leadership in creating strategies for their own people.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.