Epidemic of suicides plagues Sask. community
Rest of the story http://www.canada.com/edmontonjourna...0188fa&k=14592
Jason Warick, CanWest News Service; Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2007
SANDY BAY, Sask. - This northern Saskatchewan community is reeling following an epidemic of suicides, the most recent victim a 15-year-old girl.
At least five suicides, as well as more than a dozen attempted suicides, have taken place in this adjoining village and Cree reserve of less than 1,500 people in the past few months, according to officials. Sandy Bay is located approximately 600 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
In all five cases, young people between the ages of 15 and 31 hanged themselves. In almost all but the most recent suicides, the victims had been drinking. But there were also deeper problems ranging from addiction to family turmoil to legal issues, say sources.
View Larger Image The final e-mail of a 15-year-old Sandy Bay girl who committed suicide
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"I'm not content with the person I seem to be."
The poem was reprinted on the program card for the girl's funeral. The funeral last Saturday was attended by hundreds of area residents, as well as Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Lawrence Joseph.
"The teachers were upset. The kids were walking around teary-eyed. The whole community is feeling it," said teacher Adele Morin.
Grade 12 student Eric Laliberte said everyone is talking about the string of tragedies and is praying it will end.
"It's just crazy. There are so many suicides," said the 18-year-old Laliberte.
"It's sad, but it's not even a surprise anymore. I sometimes think about who'll be next."
Laliberte, who plans to become a pilot after graduating, said he was on his way to school a few months ago when he saw police trying to help a 21-year-old man hanging from a tree. No one discovered him until it was too late.
"He was a good buddy of mine. It was pretty traumatizing," Laliberte said.
Tasia Natewayes, 21, was out with the man and a group of others the night before.
"He started telling me all his problems. He said he couldn't take it any more but I didn't believe him," she said.
"When I heard (of the suicide), I cried the whole day."
Lazar Morin has worked as a Sandy Bay first responder on the scene of several suicides. He was able to save one man attempting to hang himself, but the rest were dead when he arrived. He couldn't even take them down, as protocol dictates that police must clear it first, he said.
"It doesn't take long. It can happen so fast," Morin said. "It is difficult, but unfortunately you get used to it. Too much has happened here already."
Ann Bear is one of several people who perform parts of the church services in this Catholic community, which does not have a resident priest. She knew the girl who died last week and helped with the funeral. Bear knew the other victims as well.
"The whole community is devastated. I'm just overwhelmed. I can't take this any more," Bear said.
"It's never happened like this before, all these young people taking their lives."
Neither the mayor of Sandy Bay nor the councillors for the governing Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation were available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Aboriginal Suicide Rates Need To Be Addressed
SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN OCTOBER 1997 v27 n03 p19
"Take the time to listen, take the time to respect each other"
- FSIN Vice Chief Albert Scott
Current statistics on Aboriginal suicide are grim. According to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Special Report: Choosing Life, Aboriginal suicide rates are two to three times higher than the Canadian average. Youth rates are even worse. The report states that suicide rates are five to six times higher among Aboriginal youth than their mainstream counterparts.
"Most concerning of all," state the Commissioners, "We identified a strong possibility that the number of suicides among Aboriginal youth will rise in the next 10 to 15 years." This is largely due to the expected bulge in Aboriginal youth populations. In the next few years, the large number of young people who are now younger than 15 will be entering young adulthood, a highly traumatic time for even the best prepared youths.
The report also refers to the impact of the "ripple effect" through interconnected families and communities. The aftermath of a suicide may include destructive behaviour or copycat suicides. This is something for which community leaders are often not prepared.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Blaine Favel agrees. "We encountered some suicides when I was Chief of Poundmaker, and the sense of powerlessness and the sense of failure that a community has, and the leadership has, is something we should talk about," he said.
Talking about the issue was the purpose of "The Washing of Tears Conference" held in Saskatoon. The conference was organized by the Health and Social Development Commission of the FSIN to address suicide and its impact. "It's an issue that none of us have not been touched by in the 72 First Nations of Saskatchewan," said Chief Favel.
The goal of the conference was to develop strategies for communities to anticipate and prevent suicide and learn to deal with the aftermath when a suicide does occur.
More than 1,000 people attended the conference, with approximately 200 coming from out of province. Most of them recognized that the answers are not simply in improving crisis services. Many of the answers lie in addressing the underlying factors. "High unemployment, poverty, the effects of residential schools, a lot of them are tied together," said Chief Favel.
These issues, and more, were addressed throughout the conference in workshops.
The findings expressed in the delegates final reports reflected those of the Royal Commission, in part: prevention through community action.
A variety of ways are suggested for communities to become more involved.
Cultural activities such as sweats, storytelling and language camps were frequently suggested.
The overwhelming recommendations, however, were for youth programs and youth involvement. As one participant stated, "Youth need a say in how their communities are run." The delegates listed positive role models and sport and recreation opportunities as being important. Courses in parenting skills, life skills, anger management and goal setting were also suggested.
The conference delegates took home the workshop findings and will begin the process of implementing them in their own communities.
The "Washing of Tears Conference" was the first step in addressing this issue that has gone on for too long. The next step will require the support of entire communities if change is to occur. As FSIN Vice-Chief Albert Scott stated, "Nothing is impossible if we work together."