It was a case in point nobody wanted to make. At a meeting calling for urgent action on suicides in northern Saskatchewan on Wednesday, one of the guests had to cancel to help an 11-year-old girl who had overdosed in a nearby community.
The meeting in Buffalo Narrows was a call to action spurred on by recent deaths in La Loche, Turnor Lake and Île-à-la-Crosse, all more than 400 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
Holly Toulejour, a social worker from the Dene High School in La Loche, called the community meeting to push for a state of emergency in the north.
It was an act of desperation to draw attention to a suicide problem she says has long been present in her community, only now she believes it is getting worse.
‘Do we need to have six people kill themselves in a row before people realize, like, ‘OK, this is not right?'”
– Holly Toulejour
Having watched the response over the years, Toulejour is fed up with talk about strategies and policies. She’s also frustrated by the tendency to boost community resources after a tragedy, saying the services always drop off.
“What is it going to take for people to realize that there’s a sense of urgency?” she asked.
“Like, do we need to have another suicide, do we need to have six people kill themselves in a row before people realize, like, ‘OK, this is not right?'”
Growing up in La Loche, Toulejour said young people had a feeling that their community was “less than.”
Toulejour herself struggled with depression and as a young woman attemped suicide.
“I know how it feels like to think ‘OK, the world would be a better place without me and who cares,'” said Toulejour.
“That was 17 years ago when I felt that way but there are still people who are feeling that way.”
System needs overhaul: Northern doctor
In October and November last year, six girls aged between 10 and 14 took their own lives in northern Saskatchewan.
Their deaths were labelled a crisis. Premier Brad Wall visited the region with two cabinet ministers and additional mental health workers were sent to the area.
Those workers have since returned to their home regions.