Tristen Durocher says he wants the Saskatchewan government to pass suicide prevention legislation because it would ensure accountability, something that he says is lacking from the province's Pillars for Life plan.
The Métis artist is with the Walking With Our Angels camp at Regina's Wascana Park, close to the Legislative Building.
"That document is not legislated, meaning there is no accountability for any follow through with any of those promises," Durocher said Tuesday. "What we need is meaningful, concrete action. This needs to be declared a public health crisis."
Durocher started a hunger strike upon his arrival in Regina on Friday.
He had walked with his friend Chris Merasty from Air Ronge, a 639-kilometre journey, hoping to spur the government to legislate a suicide prevention plan.
Durocher's fast entered Day 5 Tuesday. Durocher says he's been drinking tea and water, as well as taking vitamins and a potassium supplement to support cardiovascular health.
There were 89 portraits of people who had taken their own lives surrounding the Walking With Our Angels camp submitted by families who were mourning the losses, Durocher said
The pictures surrounding the teepee in the middle of the camp would account for about 4 per cent of the 2,338 people who died by suicide in Saskatchewan between 2005 and 2019, according to data from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
There were 665 deaths in that same time, recorded as people who were "North American Indian." Of those deaths, 413 were men and 252 were women. The deaths did not include those who had a medically assisted death.
The faces in the photos show a wide range of expressions on faces that belong to adults, teenagers, elders and children. One family sent a photo and then days later sent another, when the family lost another member to suicide, Durocher said.
"Hopelessness in our communities up north knows no age limit. Children as young as eight take their lives in this province," Durocher said. "We have faces, we have smiles and we are missed."
The Saskatchewan government voted against proposed legislation — a private member's bill — for a suicide prevention framework in June. That was the action which prompted Durocher to travel south to the province's capital.
Health Minister Jim Reiter told reporters at the time the government's position was that its policy on suicide prevention was more flexible, and thus preferable, to the proposed legislation.
"It wasn't just indifferent. It was criminally negligent. That's what that vote was and that's why I'm here," Durocher said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Minister of Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding and Minister of First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Lori Carr met with Durocher at the legislature building. A statement from the provincial government said "the ministers appreciate Mr. Durocher's advocacy on this issue and welcomed the opportunity to further this important conversation."
But it also said the government will continue work to implement the Pillars for Life plan that Durocher criticized, working with Indigenous groups and leaders, along with front-line workers, to tackle the issue.
The statement noted the government has dedicated $435 million to mental health and addictions services for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Durocher, having seen news coverage of a 2018 camp, said he expected "intimidation" from police or some backlash to his presence in the park. He said in the event of removal, he would file a complaint about a violation of his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A Regina Police Service spokesperson said the 2018 camp was in violation of a court order, which RPS had to act on. The police act on complaints and assess the situation but it is up to the discretion of the officer, they added.
"We guided them [the Walking With Our Angels group] to the legislature grounds and continue to check in with the group to ensure all parties are safe and well," an emailed statement from the police read. "The role of the Regina Police Service is to keep the peace."
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.
You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.