Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee urged members of the 26 Northern Manitoba First Nations that make up MKO to remind children that they are valued and loved on World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10.
“Often it takes just one person to make a positive difference in the life of a child or youth – you can be the person to give hope and share strength with a young person who is struggling,” said Settee in an emailed statement.
God’s Lake First Nation is an MKO member First Nation currently struggling with a suicide crisis. Chief Gilbert Andrews declared a state of emergency in his First Nation Aug. 29 after four deaths by suicide and 22 suicide attempts over the course of this summer. The community, located about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and with a population of less than 1,000 people according to the 2016 census, is dealing with a methamphetamine crisis as well as addictions to alcohol and other drugs
“This is a crisis that our health staff are dealing with every day,” Andrews said at that time. “We must develop a comprehensive plan in partnership with the federal government, otherwise this crisis will continue, and we will continue to experience tragedy and trauma."
“The First Nation has lost too many young people to suicide and is dealing with at least one suicide attempt each day,” Settee said Sept. 10. “MKO continues to advocate for improved services to help the youth and community of God’s Lake along with improved mental wellness services for all of our First Nations.”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) said Aug. 30 that action needed to be taken to address suicide rates in First Nations, which are higher than the Canadian average.
“The citizen’s of God’s Lake have been hit hard by loss of their young people,” said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. “Sadly, their deaths are a symptom of the challenge many northern First Nations face, including meth and alcohol. We need the federal government to provide adequate resources to all of our nations in order to address the addictions and mental health situation which is resulting in the suicides of our kids. This cannot continue – our suicide rates are still four times more than the national average and we need the governments to step up now. If we don’t see help soon, we will continue to have more youth suicides and attempts in First Nations in Manitoba and across Canada.”
Settee said taking care of mental health wellness was a key part of the fight to prevent suicide.
“This means different things to different people, but it could involve spiritual practices, incorporating physical activity into your daily life, or even talking to a trusted friend or family member about things you are going through in life,” said Settee.
MKO resources to help address mental health issues in member First Nations include a traditional healers program, a client navigator, mental health wellness teams and mobile crisis response teams.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis can contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. People can also text Kids Help Phone at 686868.