A walk to raise awareness on suicide in the north departed from by the RCMP Depot on Highway 2 on Friday morning.
This is the sixth edition of the walk, and Jude Ratt, who lost his daughter Betty Roberts to suicide in December 2021, said not enough is being done to prevent suicides in the north. He also said people need to be willing to talk about the challenges.
“It's not a taboo subject,” he said. “We would like people to start talking about it. The more people talk about it the more people will reach out. Hopefully they feel more comfortable reaching out for help.”
Ratt and his family have been a part of the walk for the last few years, but this year they’ve taken on a leadership role.
“We want to help out wherever we can,” he explained. “We are wanting to raise awareness for people to reach out to try and get help, because we know suicide is not going away.”
The goal of the walk is to reach Stanley Mission, just over 300 kilometers north of Prince Albert, by Friday, Aug. 12. Ratt said signs aren’t encouraging, which is why the walk is needed.
“It just goes to show what kind of a state our world is in that we have to try so hard to help people not commit suicide,” he explained. “We have got to do better.”
Normally, the walk draws a main core group of seven to 10 people. However, their numbers often increase as people join the walk for a few hours, or even a day.
“We encourage anybody to come,” Ratt said. “It's a lot of healing in a way for us as well.”
Ratt and his wife, Frannie, lost their daughter to suicide just before Christmas of 2021. She was their only daughter. They had to bury her on Frannie’s birthday.
“It's pretty devastating stuff,” Ratt said. “It's a little easier for me to talk about it now because I have done it so much lately, but it still weighs really heavy on me.
“I would hate for others to go through what I am going through, what my family and I are going through,” he added. “It's horrible.”
Jude and Frannie were in Regina at the Legislature in May to advocate for help as Sask. Party MLAs struck down an NDP motion that would have created a bipartisan special committee at the legislature to study the mental health and addictions crisis.
Ratt said their goal was to reach the Christopher Lake turnoff by the end of Friday.
“We have got quite a few people coming to join us along the way, they might not be here at the beginning bit, but they are on their way.
“This is a great cause and we want to make sure we can raise awareness as we go here…. I have received a lot of phone calls and messages today … so there will be a lot more people joining.”
Doyle Vermette was there to support the walkers and take part in a section of the walk. Vermette has been an advocate for help with the suicide epidemic in the north in his role as MLA for Athabasca.
Vermette said the prayer before the walk began.
“We are here supporting you as community members,” he said before the prayer. “As family, we are here.”
Former FSIN Grand Chief and Prince Albert resident Lawrence Joseph also came out to support the walkers. In his speech before they departed, Joseph said that he and his wife were there to support his good friends Jude and Frannie. He sent prayers for both the north and the nation, and to remind governments both provincial and federal about the issue.
“This is not a political issue,” he said. “This is an epidemic and suicide is not something that is taboo. It has got to be talked about (by) every person in every corner.”
Joseph said that he had learned about the loss of the psychiatrist in Prince Albert for youth. He said governments need to provide funds for elders to work with young people who need help.
“We call on you to save lives,” he said. “We are not trying to put you in the limelight, but we ask you to do this work for the north, for our people, for all nations.
“This has gone too long,” he added. “We have lost too many loved ones. This morning, the wife and I prayed for all people who are experiencing pain and also prayed for this to be stopped in a way, because it's here, it's real and it's painful. We ask everybody out there that is listening to please pull together and support the families.”
Ratt said that the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped with the suicide situation in the north. Residents often reach out to him because he’s so vocal about the issue, and what he hears concerns him.
“Whenever there is a suicide somewhere, people are reaching out to me just to let me know what's going on,” Ratt said. “I have noticed that there was an increase through the pandemic and it's because of the isolation, I believe, and people not being able to see their families…. It has made things that much harder.”
The walkers took a group photo before leaving, and Vermette hugged Frannie as the photo was being taken. Participants received an RCMP escort as they departed down the highway.
“I just want to still encourage people to come and join us, come help us raise the awareness,” Ratt said.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald