Youth suicide epidemic ravages northern Sask

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martin dufresne
Youth suicide epidemic ravages northern Sask

Youth suicide epidemic ravages northern Sask
At least 45 teens in a single community have attempted suicide in the past 18 months

Source: Sasquatch News)

by Bernadette Wagner

(Photo by Paul Stinson)

At least 45 teens have attempted suicide in the past 18 months in the northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche. More than half have died.

"It's an epidemic," says Laura Petschulat, a high school teacher at La Loche Community School. "They've lost hope."

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) cites suicide as the leading cause of death among First Nations people between the ages of 10 and 24.

"When young people lose hope, suicide becomes a reality," says Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Glen Pratt. "Too many of our children experience tragedy in their lives and that injures the spirit."

Pratt says the current system is set up to make First Nations fail. "Our traditional First Nations health system has been oppressed," he says. "Western medicine is very tokenized toward First Nations. We need to find a way to give them strength and not label them as sick."

"It's tragic," says Warren McCall, NDP critic for First Nations and Métis Affairs, referring to the high rate of suicide among Aboriginal youth. "It's the cutting edge of what the province is doing wrong."

Minister Responsible for First Nations and Métis Affairs June Draude declined to comment on this story. Draude is also the minister responsible for Northern Affairs.

On the Clearwater River Dene Nation just a mile outside La Loche, 70 per cent of the 1,400 band members living on the reserve are under the age of 18. In the village of La Loche, about 50 per cent of the residents are under 18. In both communities, many families live 10 or more to a house, some of which are substandard. Alcohol and drug abuse, physical and sexual violence and teen pregnancy rates are high. The welfare rate sits around 70 per cent. (...)