Trudeau calls northern Saskatchewan suicides a tragedy as fourth youngster dies

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    OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the recent rash of suicides in northern Saskatchewan is a tragedy.

    Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Trudeau said it’s all too common for young indigenous people to take their own lives.

    Trudeau says the Liberal government is working with First Nations to stop the loss of lives.

    His comments come after a 10-year-old child committed suicide in Deschambault Lake, about 500 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

    Two girls from Stanley Mission and one from La Ronge – all between the ages of 12 and 14 – also committed suicide earlier this month.

    First Nations officials said last week that there had been numerous suicide attempts this month and that more than 20 youths were considered at risk.

    “It’s obviously a tremendous tragedy in Saskatchewan that happens all too often, too many young people losing their lives,” Trudeau said. “We continue to be committed to working with indigenous communities across the country to deal with this ever-occurring tragedy.”

    Grand Chief Ron Michel of the Prince Albert Grand Council says he wants dozens of northern communities involved in the council to talk to their young residents and create a plan to stop the suicides.

    Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty, who is from Deschambault Lake, said it’s hard dealing with the suicides of people so young.

    “They have so much life to live and so much to look forward to,” he said. “I think we have to come to terms with what’s happening in our First Nations communities because a lot of things lead to that.”

    Beatty also said word about the suicides travels fast through social media, which makes it important for crisis teams to immediately deploy to work with the friends of young people who take their own lives. He said the grand council has those resources available.

    The provincial government has said some youth considered at risk of killing themselves were sent to Prince Albert to be assessed by a psychiatrist, while others were sent home with a safety plan and appropriate supports.

    Health Canada issued a statement last week saying it will help fund costs for three mental health therapists to provide counselling to at-risk youth on Fridays and Saturdays until the end of December.

    Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, who is from Saskatchewan, has said suicides are happening far too often in northern communities.

    He said the aboriginal youth suicide rate is five times the national average.

    Earlier this year, a string of suicide attempts garnered international media attention in Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.

    – With files from MBC

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