FILLED TO CAPACITY
Youths discuss suicide crisis
SASKATOON More than 500 youth from across northern Saskatchewan will gather in Saskatoon this week to talk about the region’s suicide crisis and share thoughts on what can be done to empower kids and save lives.
Interest in the two-day Ignite the Life conference has been so great that organizers had to tell at least 300 young people that registration is full.
“The door is busting down,” said Treena Wynes, a conference organizer. “It just shows the urgent need there is in the province.”
Wynes, a member of Lac La Ronge Indian Band, began putting the conference together in the fall after a rash of suicides in northern Saskatchewan made national headlines. Five indigenous girls between the ages of 10 and 14 committed suicide in the communities of Stanley Mission, La Ronge, Deschambault Lake and Makwa Sahgaiehcan during the month of October and many other youths were believed to be at risk of attempting suicide.
Wynes said she something needed to be done.
“We don’t want to sugar-coat the topic or skirt around the topic. Suicide, it is what it is and we need to be talking about it openly and we need to figure out what is going on in order for communities to put in some sort of suicide prevention program,” she said.
The conference, which kicks off Thursday at the Saskatoon Inn, features presentations by both adults and youth and opportunities for the participants — aged 11 to 15 — to network with each other.
Corey O’Soup, Saskatoon’s Children’s Advocate, is one of the speakers at the event and said he will also take the opportunity to listen to the youth who show up.
Their input will help form his special report on northern youth suicides, which he hopes to release in June.
Already O’Soup has travelled to Stanley Mission, La Ronge, Deschambault Lake and La Loche and hopes to speak with many more youth in communities across the north before writing his report.
“What I’ve told my staff is: I’m done talking to the adults. If all we do for the next three or four months before we do the report is talk to youth, I’d be happy with that,” he said.
“I really want this report, and I want the recommendations, coming from the voice of kids. So if a kid says something to us, it’s not our job to filter it or to interpret it. It’s our job to say exactly what they said. So that means that if it’s in kid speak or kid language, that’s the way it’s going to come out and that’s the way our recommendations are going to be coming out, right from their voices.”
Already, O’Soup has heard stories about drugs and alcohol, about physical and sexual abuse. He said these are symptoms of larger problems that stem from colonization, residential schools and parents who don’t know how to be parents.
“Those are the things we need to get to and talk about the impacts that those have on kids nowadays,” O’Soup said. “That’s what we’re looking for, to dig beyond what’s at the surface.”