FSIN announces plans for a suicide prevention strategy
- Andrea Ledding | September 11, 2017
Saskatoon-Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) executive announced a First Nations Suicide Strategy will be developed and released by May 31, 2018. They are beginning with outreach to every First Nation, politicians, and organizations across the province. Vice-Chief Heather Bear held a press conference on September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day.
“FSIN Social and Health Development department is already working hard on this priority initiative,” said Bear. “The strategy will incorporate lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have actually reduced their suicide rates; build on the strength and resilience in our communities; acknowledge and reflect our treaty right to health, the TRC recommendations and UNDRIP; and emphasize capacity building at the community level.”
Data from the Chief Coroner has shown a 4.3 times higher suicide rates for First Nations people than the general population, and 26 times higher for young women 10-19 years old, something Bear calls unacceptable.
Dr. Jack Hicks, an expert with a proven track record who led other suicide prevention strategies in places like Nunavut, is also supporting the chiefs and secretariat and commends the FSIN for their leadership, doing research nobody else has thus far done in the province as well as undertaking a community-based initiative to address the problem. “They’ve committed to release the first provincial First Nations Suicide Prevention Strategy in the country,” noted Dr. Hicks.
Describing it as a crisis and epidemic, Bear said there is a strong focus on youth for FSIN because FSIN leadership are often the first or second call for families when young people take their lives, and they also have personal experience. Bear has herself lost a daughter to suicide.
“We don’t need more reports, we need meaningful resources within our communities to make effective change.”
The full strategy will be ready for assembly in May, but Bear says they have already noticed communities that invest in youth have fewer incidents.
“Culture, language, land-based programs are all proving to be very effective.” Underlying contributing factors include inadequate treaty realizations: housing, education, social, economics, treaty right to livelihood.
“When you live in a community that virtually has no economics and young people with little or nothing to do after school hours, we need to fill the gap in those high-risk hours.”
This includes not only activities and programs, but employment and economic development initiatives and revenue resource-sharing to effect meaningful change.
“The Prime Minister of Canada has said the most important relationship to him is First Nations relationship, so I call on the federal government to really take a really serious look and consideration for what all the regions are doing in Canada on this issue, and I’m hoping when we do get this strategy complete it is funded...we’re looking at a model to be used all over the world because it’s been developed by our people, for our people.”
FSIN sees the broader picture of a general strategy of prevention rather than the federal approach to treat hotspots after there have been many suicides.
“Indigenous people are taking action on their own; if we wait for government it will never happen.”
Bear notes that it’s not just rates or statistics: families and communities are living with the aftermath and she sends them prayers and strength. She also says they are counting on the youth. Cheyenne Fineday and André Bear are two youth assembly representatives delivering answers from the youth, with this being a priority on their agenda.
“We need youth inclusion. Our youth are there, and our youth are listening. I want to say to the youth; your leadership does truly care about what’s happening. I want to say that, whatever problems you have, there is a solution. The impact suicide has on families, the pain and the agony, is real. Just talk to someone, call someone. Anyone. Know and understand that it’s just temporary, there’s always tomorrow.”
Bear also sent love and prayers to those grieving in the face of this tragedy.
“We acknowledge the pain and agony of all our families. Today is about tomorrow and the work that we’re doing: it’s my vision that the next generation will never have to deal with this problem or issue again, and we’ll all get the help we need.”