Youth suicide is one of three key health concerns among Saskatchewan Métis people.
Monday in the city Métis Nation Saskatchewan launched a Blue Ribbon Campaign in Yorkton to raise awareness abut the serious issue.
Suicide rates have been identified as one of the top priorities in the Métis Health and Well-Being Strategy and up until now there has been a lack of appropriate programs and services directed to Métis youth in respect to suicide, explained Sandra Youngchief, Interim Director of Health with the provincial Métis organization.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst Aboriginal teens aged 15-29 and there is little known about the exact rates of suicide in our Métis communities.
Suicidal behaviours amongst Métis youth are a reality for many reasons, including the loss of community ties and cultural connections, as well as the experience of lower socioeconomic status.
Youngchief said in talking to RCMP in Yorkton she was told the Sunrise Health Region has the second highest incidence of youth suicide in Saskatchewan, so launching the new program in the city made sense.
“The Blue Ribbon Campaign was developed to raise awareness of and support for Métis youth suicide prevention and to provide training to professionals working with Métis youth at risk. The campaign supports the unique cultural needs of Métis communities and expands the capacity that already exists,” explained a brochure from the press conference. “An Alliance of Hope, the ultimate goal of the campaign is to send a message to Métis youth that they are valued’ their future is the future of the Métis nation.”
The Blue Ribbon is a symbol of hope for Métis youth and pinning ribbons to as many people as possible is how the group hopes to raise awareness of the issues around Métis youth suicide.
The campaign is also raising awareness amongst Métis youth, their friends and family about the kinds of services available to youth who are at risk of harming themselves.
Youngchief explained the campaign will target youth.
“It gives students an opportunity to know there is a different process,” she said, adding the process is one where support is given.
Youngchief said you can provide all the resources but added “in the moment you don’t know who to call.”
The current campaign includes circulating a simple business card, but one which has several telephone numbers to agencies youth can call when they need some help.
But the program is also designed to give youth tools to deal with crisis too. One way to do that is help youth reconnect with their roots.
“We’re trying to get kids connected back to their culture,” said Youngchief.
One of the elements of Métis culture is the Red River Cart, which Youngchief plays an important role a training program also held Monday to help give both youth and support people more tools in dealing with youth suicide.
The Blue Ribbon Train-the-Trainer program has been developed as a culturally appropriate vehicle for delivering suicide prevention and awareness training for Saskatchewan’s Métis youth.
“A Red River cart wheel was chosen as a model for this Strategy because it is a culturally recognizable symbol for Métis people,” explained the Métis Health and Well-Being Strategy. “The wheel, with its large hub, spokes and rim serve to demonstrate the interconnectedness of Métis understandings of health and well-being with priority areas for action. It is hoped that this symbol will serve to inspire community engagement, dialogue and vision for healthy communities.
“The wheel hub provides strength, anchors the wheel, and with the cart axle, holds the two cart wheels together. Métis culture, language, values and traditional knowledge which hold the community together, are contained in the hub of the wheel. The wheel spokes radiate from the hub and are of equal length, demonstrating balance and equality in priority areas for health action, Each spoke is important, as the wheel will not function if all of the spokes are not intact. When communities are under stress, wheel spokes get broken and must be repaired. Through community engagement and dialogue, the community will identify what is broken, as well as the solutions and actions needed to repair the spokes, returning balance to the cart wheel and the community. The spokes of the wheel are inserted into the rim, or felloes of the wheel. The felloes of the wheel hold the spokes in place, and provide strength and support to the wheel. In this model, the felloes are the individuals, communities, partners and stakeholders working together towards common goals and objectives of improving Métis health.”
Monday’s training program looked to train service providers who are often the first to notice signs of/or intervene in suicide and was developed to assist communities to take ownership and control over suicide prevention and intervention, explained Youngchief.
This certified training takes place over four hours and participants who complete the program receive a certificate.
“Youth suicide is an unfortunate and tragic reality in many Métis communities. As such, the MN-S has prioritized suicide prevention and education. In 2009, the MN-S received funding from the AHTF to create a provincial Métis Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy and Tool Kits. The MN-S is now working to implement the Strategy in communities and builds partnerships to create sustainability for the Strategy’s use. This implementation will include the creation of a Training Manual and workshops to train community members, community workers and health service providers in how to use and adapt the Strategy and Tool Kits for use in their communities,” explained the strategy book.