Written by: Eagleclaw Bunnie Thom
Edited by: Raven Spiratos
It brings up a tough question, but it has to be asked: What is more dangerous at the moment? Is it a growing virus or is it our mental health deterioration?-Band Councillor Dustin Ross Fiddler
I want to start this off with an acknowledgement, not one of land but of loss.
I want to acknowledge the loss of those who have left us before their time. I want to acknowledge those who came before us and those who left us too early, thank you for your teachings and your help. I want to acknowledge those who never felt they belonged and are gone now, it is our loss we will try to create the spaces you lacked here. You are missed. You are remembered.
The most recent federal consensus stated that the Indigenous population represents 16.5% of the population of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is being highlighted because it is the only jurisdiction in Canada that keeps track of race when counting suicides. Roughly one-third (34.6% averaged over 4 years) of suicides are done by Indigenous peoples.
In May, about two months into the global pandemic lockdown, Tyquaisha Ernest Fiddler, of Waterhen First Nation, died by suicide. Tyquaisha, a fourteen-year-old, was known by her community to be a caring girl who “would put a smile on your face when she would start smiling.” While there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Waterhen, Band Councillor Dustin Ross Fiddler says that the impact of the virus to the social structures that supported the community’s mental health have been devastated:
“It brings up a tough question, but it has to be asked: What is more dangerous at the moment? Is it a growing virus or is it our mental health deterioration?”
This is an epidemic within a pandemic, within persistent and ongoing colonization.
What is clear, is that the COVID restrictions have compounded the already existing challenges Indigenous youth face, such as the unequal access to healthcare, ageing out of child welfare, subpar housing, disparities in wage and employment barriers, among others. Suicide is not, and cannot be understood as a stand-alone issue. The mental health of youth must be centred, now, and tomorrow. Today, we remember Tyquaisha, a youth we did not have the chance to meet. If you are a youth that resonates with this story, please know that we are here for you, and that there are resources available for you. It will get better.
To end, let us echo the words of Regina artist and activist Tristen Durocher:
What we need is meaningful, concrete action. This needs to be declared a public health crisis.
Thank you to Avery Velez and Brooke Stratton for your help in creating this article.
Hope for Wellness – (available in Cree, Ojibway, Inuktitut, English and French)
Tel #: 1-855-242-3310
Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit – Mon – Fri 4 pm – 8 am, Sat – Sun 24 hours
Tel #: 306-764-1011
Regina Mobile Crisis Services – Suicide Line – 24/7 Hours
Tel #: 306-525-5333
Saskatoon Mobile Crisis – 24/7 Hours
Tel #: 306-933-6200
Tel #: 613-238-7931
Tel #: 613-230-6211
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
Tel #: 613-789-8458
Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC)
Tel #: 613-562-2333
Tel #: 613-241-1573
Tel #: 1-800-611-4755
Tel #: 613-725-3601
Tel #: 613-238-5014
Tel #: (613) 789-1141
British Columbia-specific (source):
Native Youth Crisis Hotline
Tel #: 1-877-209-1266
KUU-US Crisis Lines
Adult Crisis Tel #: 250-723-4050
Youth Crisis Tel #: 250-723-2040
BC wide: 1-800-588-8717