Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall visited La Ronge yesterday to confer with local leaders and help develop strategies to address the crisis of youth suicides, which have devastated the communities of La Ronge and Stanley Mission.
The meetings included Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron, Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit, First Nations and Northern Affairs minister Donna Harpauer, Saskatchewan’s child and youth advocate Corey O’Soup, and representatives from Health Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the RCMP.
“It was a very good meeting,” Wall said, speaking to reporters outside the Lac La Ronge band office. “I was honoured to be there, and I was humbled to be in the presence of people who are everyday heroes, literally saving lives in this community.”
“We were listening,” he said, “to get the reports of the response but also ideas for what can happen going forward.”
Wall said the province will continue providing mental health supports to the community in the short term and commit to identifying and implementing long-term solutions for the communities.
“Chief Cook-Searson, she’s been talking about the idea of a health and wellness centre,” Wall said. “In principle, I like that idea, and I hope the federal government would like it as well.”
Wall said a project like the proposed centre would require a “broad partnership” to be built, and the province has shown their willingness to move forward.
“The solution here is family and community,” Wall said. “We need to make sure that whatever we’re asking for from the federal government, or whatever we’re contemplating in new resources or a centre, has to be about those solutions and supports.”
Wall said the province was committed to continuing to work with First Nations to identify the most effective solutions, and stressed the importance of urgency.
“I felt that the premier and the ministers were very responsive and willing to support us,” Cook-Searson said.
She made two proposals during the meeting, both of which were approved.
The first proposal, a community safety plan developed in association with Red Cross, involves Health Canada hiring youth workers to perform outreach in the community.
The second proposal approved at the meeting would see Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada hiring more guidance counsellors, hall monitors and behavioural tutors for local schools.
Cook-Searson thanked Wall for supporting the planned wellness centre.
“We asked the Premier for his support and financial contribution,” she said, “and he gave us his word that he’s going to support us in that effort.”
Cameron also said he was glad to see Wall’s support.
“The political commitment is there and we have committed to continue working together,” he said.
Cameron said the Premier committed to helping FSIN and the local First Nations lobby for immediate and long-term support investment from the federal government.
“We’re going to begin the correspondence tomorrow morning,” Cameron said.