Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller was in Saskatoon Thursday to address the issue of youth suicide in Saskatchewan First Nations communities head-on.
The Trudeau government is investing $2.5 million over two years in youth mental wellness and suicide prevention programming for the province’s First Nations.
The programming will have a holistic focus.
The Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation recently declared a crisis in that community after a 10-year-old girl took her own life in November.
Since taking on his new portfolio a few weeks ago, Miller said he has become fully aware of just how serious a problem youth suicide is in a number of Saskatchewan First Nations communities.
“Hours into my new role as minister of Indigenous services, I received the tragic news that a child in northern Saskatchewan, close by, had taken her life,” he said. “Other communities have suffered similar tragedies including your neighbours in Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation. Other communities, Fond du Lac, Hatchet Lake, Red Earth First Nation.”
The money will be given directly to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and then distributed to individual communities to set up their own programs as they see fit.
Makwa Sahgaiehcan Chief Ronald Mitsuing said the investment is a good start.
“What I have seen so far is the province and federal government coming together,” he said. “That’s something we needed. We all need to work together in crisis situations like this. It’s not really money we’re after, we need people to come train our people so we can take care of ourselves.”
Nevertheless, Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation Chief Louie Mercredi said the dollar figure is woefully lacking.
“That $2.5 million that’s been announced, that’s not enough,” he said. “We should be getting more. I think the province should match this $2.5 million as well. There should be no dollar figure on human lives.”
A federal government press release says $32 million has already been provided this fiscal year for mental health services and supports for Saskatchewan First Nations children and youth.
This includes mental health counselling, equine therapy, land-based healing, psychological assessment, mentoring and elder support.
It also says the government invested $53 million to address mental wellness challenges in the Saskatchewan region including youth suicide.
The Trudeau government also supports the Hope for Wellness Helpline, National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy and Youth Hope Fund.
The helpline provides 24-hour-a-day crisis services in English, French and upon request Cree, Ojibway and Inukitut.
Both the FSIN and Saskatchewan NDP have put forward their own suicide prevention strategies.
As of yet, the provincial government has not endorsed either.
(PHOTO: Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller. Photo courtesy Marc Miller Facebook page.)