Yesterday our daughter-in-law Karen Leis sent an important letter to the premier of Saskatchewan. Karen is the province’s representative on the board of directors of the Canadian Paediatric Society. In her letter, she expresses her concern about a cluster of suicides in a Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation community near Loon Lake, about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. There have been three suicides among young people there in a three week period and eight suicide attempts. Karen notes that the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation is sadly not the only community to experience the pain of youth suicide.
On behalf of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Karen urges Premier Scott Moe to collaborate with Indigenous communities and their elders to address issues of poverty, racism and substance abuse. Karen cites these as the root causes of the current mental health and suicide crisis. She says a long term strategy to provide young people in Indigenous communities with effective, culturally appropriate and accessible mental health care services is imperative. Karen ends her letter by asking the premier to take action as soon as possible.
Of course, the Saskatchewan story on this issue is not unique to that province, as the moving testimony at a special meeting of the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations earlier this week illustrated. National Chief Perry Bellegarde said action must be taken to stop Indigenous children and teens nationwide from feeling so hopeless they harm themselves.
Karen’s letter on behalf of Canada’s paediatricians provides important support to the voices of the Assembly of First Nations on this pressing issue. It should inspire us all to speak out and take action in our own areas of influence, because as Karen notes so insightfully, the health of our children and young people is a key indicator of the health of our entire society.