Flying Dust First Nation, a Treaty 6 territory, is a six-hour drive northwest from Saskatchewan’s provincial capital Regina. Prevention worker Patricia Main describes the Cree community with 589 on reserve and 848 off as follows, “People are very friendly, they’re very welcoming here. So if you came here you would be like their best friend. By the time you left you’d be like—oh my goodness, I felt so welcome! When people come here they feel very welcome.”
Besides welcoming, the community is proactive when it comes to suicide prevention and uses grassroots and community ties to make sure everyone is part of looking after everyone else. When Patricia started her job there three years ago, a few weeks in there we several suicides. Her group quickly started up LivingWorks ASIST training and got people from different families to take it thus spreading out the safety net within the community.
Late in 2019 they continued this training with LivingWorks safeTALK for elders, youths, and other community members. Patricia notes the elders were very impressed, “It was because the information was so quick and straightforward. They said this was so good.”
The youth concurred, “All the information that they needed to know, it was all there. And just you know, to be able to talk about it. And to also realize that they’re just the person that’ll take them to the next level, to the next safe person to keep them safe. That gave them less stress and less of a burden and say okay, as long as I’m there to listen to them and to ask the question, to make sure that they’re kept safe.”
One youth participant who was taking LivingWorks safeTALK again knows the value. Patricia explains, “One of the young girls, because she took safeTALK she literally saved one of her friends life because she realized something was going on and just phoned the caregiver and said I think you need to go check on her, I think she’s thinking about suicide. She literally saved her friend’s life.”
LivingWorks safeTALK trains participants to recognize signs, engage the person at risk, and connect them to an intervention resource for further support. Patricia notes, “Flying Dust is very proactive trying to get the word out there. And bring in awareness and say, you know, it’s okay to talk about suicide.”
Many Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis people in Canada face much higher suicide rates than non-Indigenous Canadians. Depending on the age group and region, this rate can be up to 33 times higher. In May 2019, the country’s parliament passed Charlie Angus’ motion (M-174) to establish a national suicide prevention plan. Angus is a Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, a region in northern Ontario hit particularly hard with a high number of suicides.
People across Canada and the world will be watching lawmakers to see what happens next. Until then, Patricia will keep the communication lines open, “Giving people information so they can learn how to begin a healing journey, or walk on a healing journey or give them some guidance or direction.”
Read here to learn more about Flying Dust First Nation. And watch this space for futures stories about an adaptation of ASIST called I-ASIST— a program we’ve piloted in Australia focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with an increased focus on storytelling, relationships, and other key cultural considerations.
Photo courtesy of Flying Dust First Nation