A new report for Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan has found the suicide rates of young First Nations women are almost 30 times higher than for non-First Nations women in the same age range.
The grim statistics have prompted Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan to recommend a multipronged, community approach to tackling the problem.
That approach – the Saskatchewan First Nations Suicide Prevention Strategy – was approved Thursday by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 First Nations in the province.
The rate of death by suicide among First Nations people in Saskatchewan is 4.3 times higher than the rate among non-First Nations people, the report said.
For First Nations women aged 10 to 19, the rate is 29.7 times higher than non-First Nations women in that age range. For males in that age range, the rate is 6.4 times higher.
Twenty-five per cent of First Nation suicides are by teenagers, compared with 6 per cent in that cohort among other ethnicities, according to the report.
Between 2005, when the province began coding death certificates by ethnicity, and 2016, 508 First Nations people have died by suicide.
The report noted Canada is the only Group of Eight country that has not developed a national strategy for suicide prevention in line with 2012 recommendations from the World Health Organization.
The report comes after multiple suicides in several Saskatchewan communities, including the suicide deaths of six girls in La Ronge and other northern communities over the span of a few weeks in 2016.
“What was the cost of the ‘fly-in’ response of government to the crisis in La Ronge, spending that left nothing behind in the community?” the report said, adding that northern Saskatchewan may be an example of a situation where money spent in suicide-prevention measures might pay for itself through savings elsewhere in the system.
The strategy calls for federal funding – although an amount is not specified – to help pay for mental-health workers, cultural programs and other measures designed to protect people who may be at risk.
“Obviously we need to be more pro-active and I think that is exactly what this strategy is,” FSIN vice-chief David Pratt said Thursday in an interview. “Being pro-active, rather than reactive when there’s a crisis.”
The strategy acknowledges community feedback that any assistance – in the form of counselling, support and experts – is available only when there is a crisis. Programs and services often end because of a lack of sustainable funding, the report noted.
“We’re looking for investments from the federal government … we’re going to be looking for a major ask to be able to implement this strategy. So obviously the federal government needs to step up and take some of that responsibility,” Mr. Pratt said.
The report also cited the need for better information about Indigenous suicides. Provinces collect information in different ways; not all jurisdictions track ethnicity, for example. This past March, Health Canada told broadcaster APTN that suicides are recorded in provincial databases and there “is no simple mechanism to identify First Nations within these provincial/territorial databases and there is no First Nations suicide-surveillance system.”
Federal New Democrat MP Charlie Angus tabled a bill Tuesday calling for a national plan on suicide prevention.
The Department of Indigenous Services Canada provided $225,000 to help develop the strategy and will consider additional funding once it receives a formal request, department spokeswoman Martine Stevens said in an e-mail.