Sask. First Nation to hold community walk for mental health support

·3 min read

Recent suicide attempts by two teenage girls at a First Nation in the Treaty 4 area have prompted its leaders to organize a support walk for its youth Friday morning.

“We haven't had community events and we’re not able to have healing circles or talking circles for the community to come together,” said Lynn Acoose, Chief of the Zagime Anishinabek (formerly called the Sakimay First Nation) north of Grenfell.

The community is to hold an outdoor smudge walk starting at 10 a.m. at its Goose Lake Store.

“The youth groups in our community will be participating to bring a message of hope and support for their peers who may be experiencing anxiety, depression and sadness,” according to a press release from Zagime.

In April this year, a band member committed suicide, Acoose said. The two girls survived their recent attempts.

The First Nation has been in lockdown since March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Saskatchewan, leaving its youth feeling isolated and absent of their regular support systems, especially with elders.

“They rely on social activities to express themselves and to enjoy just getting out of their heads for a while, having some gatherings for them and gatherings for older people,” Acoose said.

Gathering restrictions have forced members to do without their regular routines.

“It disrupts the ability of the older people to council the younger people and to have inter-generational kinds of knowledge exchange,” the chief said.

“When you grow up on reserves in your own community, a lot of the learning and knowledge you acquire is through older people.”

She and community leaders Nina Wilson and Aaron Tank are to give speeches during the walk. It’s open to everyone, including people from outside Zagime.

Acoose said it will follow COVID-19 restriction guidelines: Participants will be required to wear masks, stick only to their family bubbles and stay separated by six feet; volunteers will be carrying hand-santizer and asking people to mask-up; elders will be following in their vehicles.

The walk is to end at 11:30 a.m. with an outdoor wiener roast at the Goose Lake Community Complex.

Acoose said the healing circles are safe places for “people to express how they're feeling. When you hear other people's stories, you become aware you're not alone.”

She encouraged parents in her community, saying, “it's not easy to maintain your emotional intimacy with your children. It's not always a job you can do yourself.”

She urged anyone who needs it to contact the support professionals working in the First Nation.

For the community’s youth, Acoose said, “they just need to stand up for themselves and speak for themselves and we'll listen.”

Zagime hasn’t yet recorded a COVID-19 infection; only exposures, Acoose said. It has 274 members living on reserve.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact: Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), Saskatoon Mobile Crisis (306-933-6200), Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit (306-764-1011), Regina Mobile Crisis Services (306-525-5333) or the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides culturally-competent crisis intervention counselling support for Indigenous people at (1-855-242-3310).

Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post