The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations continues to face "a state of crisis" after a sixth girl became the most recent suicide in northern Saskatchewan in less than a month.
"This is heartbreaking and shocking," said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Kimberly Jonathan. "Our youth ought to be planning their future and celebrating their successes; instead, there's despair and hoplessness."
On Sunday, a 13-year-old girl from La Ronge, Sask., took her own life.
Earlier in October, three girls aged 12 to 14 from Stanley Mission, Sask., and La Ronge also killed themselves in the span of four days.
A week later, a 10-year-old girl in Deschambault Lake, Sask., took her own life.
Then last Friday, a 13-year-old girl killed herself on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan.
"They're not just statistics," said Jonathan. "Our little girls are dying. It isn't about this being No. 6."
Jonathan said she had been talking to a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across the country Monday. Many expressed shock and sadness over this spate of suicides, she said.
The heartache, though, is mixed with frustration.
"It's more than the pit-of-my-stomach anger," she said. "The pit-of-my-soul pain. As a life-giver of three Indigenous girls, I just cannot fathom having to write another proposal for help."
Jonathan said she doesn't know what more to do at this point. She said she's tired of Indigenous people being treated like beggars, having to plead their case for help in the midst of a crisis. She's once again calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit northern Saskatchewan and provide the necessary support.
"Condolences: Thank you for them," said Jonathan. "We need action. We need to see resources that our leadership have been asking for years."
More than anything, Jonathan is stressing the importance of this being a provincial and national issue. She is calling on people everywhere to be a part of action that makes elected officials step up.
"We don't want photo [opportunities], we don't want pretty speeches," she said. "Pretty speeches are not going to save our children."
Education director responds
Northern Lights School Division education director Ken Ladouceur said teachers and students in these affected communities are being given all the support they need right now.
"Words escape you," he said. "Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families and Indigenous people everywhere."
This school division is not new to tragedy. Most recently, Ladouceur helped guide staff and students through the school shooting in La Loche.
Now, Ladouceur is trying to be a leader in the face of yet another tragedy.
"We are no stranger to suicide within our schools and across our Indigenous populations in the north," he said. "It is something we are always aware of and trying to support as much as we can."
Ladouceur knows more work can be done, though.
"Prevention programs are in all of our schools," he said. "The age of these students tells us we can't put enough interventions and support in for these youth."
Staff and administration are working with local health districts to provide all the help they can. Ladouceur said he knows how difficult this is on the teachers right now. "The students are as close to them as their own family."
Leaders speak out
"Research and experience shows that the connection between youth suicide and the autonomy of Indigenous communities, working on reconciliation and empowering those communities is a large part of that solution," said Buckley Belanger, MLA for Athabasca.
Belanger also took issue with comments made earlier in the year by health minister Jim Reiter — when he was the minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs — and said the government would look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action that made sense and could be done quickly.
Belanger mentioned the years of work which went into research, interviews and consultations before the final report was released.
"They were not done so provincial ministers could decide what made sense to them," Belanger said. "If this government really isn't willing to listen, if they aren't willing to work with the Indigenous communities, if they are only going to do what is quick and easy for them, then how does this government expect anything to change?"
NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon said the supports offered to northern communities after the first three youths took their own lives haven't been enough. He mentioned long-standing inequities and inadequacies in the north.
"We've got a sixth suicide," he said. "What we're doing just isn't working. The supports just haven't been there."
Wotherspoon said long-term commitments need to be made to address issues such as addictions and housing.
"We've got a real shortfall to make up for in the long-term."
He said it takes resources to bolster basic things such as evening programs, and to continue to working with northern leadership, providing the sources to help healing.
"This is unspeakably tragic," said Premier Brad Wall.
Wall said suicide prevention strategies have been developing in collaboration with school divisions and health regions.
"Obviously we need to continue to do more," he said.
Wall said the government is looking at all options to address the issue, noting the pattern of all six lives lost being young girls.
"Everything's on the table. It's an all-of-the-above approach we need to take for this because we just can't afford to lose any young girls, or any young people period," he said.
MP Georgina Jolibois called on the federal government to address the immediate needs of Indigenous mental health in northern communities.
"The government needs to end the Band-Aid strategy and commit to a culturally appropriate long-term approach to mental wellness," Jolibois said during Monday's question period in the House of Commons. "How much louder do our kids need to be?"
Correction : Based on incorrect information provided to the CBC, an earlier version of this story said wrongly that a state of emergency had been declared as a result of suicides. In fact, that has not happened. (Nov 01, 2016 11:42 AM)