'This is normal for us:' Indigenous leaders want help to end suicide crisis

REGINA — Indigenous leaders from across Saskatchewan are crying out for governments to help their communities deal with what they are calling a suicide pandemic.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in the province, hosted several chiefs at a news conference Tuesday near a teepee erected on the lawn across from the legislature to draw attention to the suicide problem.

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The provincial government is seeking a court order to have organizer Tristen Durocher and his supporters removed from the site.

Durocher set up his teepee after walking more than 600 kilometres to Regina from a community in northern Saskatchewan to call for legislative changes to address suicide.

Officials have said there is no overnight camping or fires allowed in the park and that Durocher's group doesn't have a permit.

A hearing is set for Thursday.

The provincial government announced a strategy back in May to tackle its rate of suicide. It said each year about 144 people in the province kill themselves, and that suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 49 in northern Saskatchewan.

Durocher said much more still needs to be done to save lives.

He's currently on a tea fast, which he plans to end mid-September.

Faces of dozens of people who have died by suicide are displayed around the teepee. Durocher said people have come there to grieve the loss of loved ones and offer tobacco.

Many of the chiefs voiced support for Durocher's cause and spoke of personal loss.

Chief Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation said his remote northern reserve is home to 900 members. He and many people have lost loved ones to suicide, he said.

"This is normal for us, " he said as young community members surrounded him, holding up pictures of people who have died.

"We need help."

Ochapowace Nation Chief Margaret Bear said that a young man in her community, about 170 kilometres east of Regina, recently attempted suicide. He is recovering after being revived by his partner.

"I know what it is that they are thinking," she told the crowd and gathered leaders. "The lack of hope."

Two years earlier, protesters set several teepees at the legislature as part of the Justice For Our Stolen Children camp to call attention to racial injustice and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care. A judge ordered the camp dismantled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 11, 2020

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