Star Phoenix

Elder John Stonechild speaks about youth suicide after the National Circle of Ceremony and Healing for Our Spirits Day at the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Fort Qu'Appelle.

Elders and community members from the Treaty 4 territory joined National Chief Perry Bellegarde to pray for an end to youth suicide.

Friday was the first National Circle of Ceremony and Healing for Our Spirits Day, an event initiated by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) as a way to answer the call for help from indigenous youth across the country.

Bellegarde said the day is not meant just for indigenous people but for all people who care about the young people.

John Stonechild, an elder from the Okanese First Nation, answered the call for prayers.

He said prayer is always good but said the youth should be top of mind every day.

Stonechild said suicide has impacted his community and other First Nations in the File Hills area and it is concerning.

“One girl was only 13 when she committed suicide and I wonder, ‘What could be so bad for a 13-year-old to commit suicide?’,” he said. “The day we buried her, my friend said, ‘Look down here.’ I said, ‘Yeah? So?’ He said, ‘Those are all young women you and I have buried — suicide.’ ”

Stonechild said seeing that row of young women, some of whom were mothers, made him stop and think about suicide.

“Who is to blame for this?,” he said. “I believe everything starts in the home. We are not listening to our youth anymore.”

He said adults need to start paying attention to the youth.

“Not preaching to them, but listening to them, common everyday talk,” said Stonechild. “I think some of them, even in the home, feel unnoticed and their interpretation of that is being unloved, uncared for and unwanted. We as parents and grandparents are not sitting down and telling them face-to-face, ‘I love you.’ ”

He said love and the expression of love is a powerful tool and will go far in combating youth suicide.

“When you tell someone you love them, well that is their message for the day and it stays with them and they feel good about themselves,” said Stonechild.

Speaking with a child and letting them know they are loved and they are valued is important because even children as young as eight or nine can experience difficult times and may need someone to talk to about it.

Lindsay Starr from the Starblanket Cree Nation echoed Stonechild’s sentiments.

He too has attended many youth funerals and it makes him sad.

Starr is part of the elder’s council for the Yorkton Child and Family Services and says it’s important to shed light on this issue because many youth have difficulty opening up to others and there are inadequate resources to assist them.

“It is important that they take in ceremonies, just to help them out holistically,” said Starr.

Something needs to be done, he said, because the youth are crying out for help.

Starr said many youth have not had an easy life and have trust issues, but asking them how they are feeling and not what they are doing is one way to show them you care.

He said youth suicide hurts everyone.

“The one thing I find difficult is going out and doing the ceremony for the ones who have taken their own lives,” said Starr. “There are times when I have to go out and get help because it affects me.”

He has no answers as to why youth decide to commit suicide, but says the more time parents and caregivers can invest in the youth is always good.