Youths dis­cuss sui­cide cri­sis

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREA HILL ahill@post­ Twit­­dreaHill

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.”

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