Hundreds of students who returned to school on Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation on Tuesday morning were met by crisis counsellors in the wake of a girl’s suicide and several suicide attempts in the community that followed.
The school has been closed since 10-year-old Jaylyn Angus took her own life last Thursday.
Since then, another seven young people have attempted suicide and have been taken to hospital.
The band leadership declared a state of emergency in its small community of about 1,000 residents.
The provincial and federal governments have pledged emergency services. Both the Meadow Lake Tribal Council and Saskatchewan Health Authority have deployed suicide and mental health counsellors.
Crisis teams have also visited the homes of children and teens who were flagged as high-risk for suicide.
Now that classes have resumed, counsellors will also assess all school-aged children, with parental permission, for suicide risk.
‘Don’t break our hearts like this’
Dorothy Angus, Jaylyn’s mother, said she is terrified that more young people will die.
“Sometimes I think, is this a copycat thing? Is this going to happen again? I’m even scared to open Facebook. I’m scared to see, are we going to have another one in our community?” she said.
“It’s like counting, counting, counting, and when is it going to stop?”
The First Nation has reported seven suicides since 2016. Four of them — including a child, two teens and an adult male — have happened in the past five months.
Angus says Jaylyn’s 14-year-old friend took her own life earlier this month. Jaylyn went to her funeral.
Angus said she spoke to her daughter after the event about how many people loved her friend and how heartbreaking it would be to lose a child in this way.
“I have even said … ‘Don’t ever do that to us, my girl. Don’t break our hearts like this.'”
Angus said Jaylyn was a sweet Grade 5 girl who loved music, especially playing guitar and listening to BTS, a boy band from South Korea. She enjoyed hunting with her father, Jason, and dancing jingle dress at powwows.
“You’re supposed to still have a life at 10 years old.… She didn’t even have the teenager life. She didn’t even get to finish school, graduate, marry, have kids. It’s gone. All we have left is the memories,” Angus told CBC News in a phone interview after Jaylyn’s funeral on Monday.
Community asking for help
“Just because we buried her, it’s not over, because we have to go home. We have to go to a house that has so many memories — a house where she ended her life. And, we have to still deal with that,” the mother said.
Angus, a schoolteacher, saw her daughter a half hour before the suicide. She said she hasn’t been able to sleep because she is so consumed by her grief and confusion over why her young daughter would take her own life.
Angus said she can only conclude that Jaylyn was deeply troubled by problems that she hid inside.
“To the parents, tell your kids every day you love them. Keep them close by you. If there are any, any red flags … even if they’re upset, even if they’re hurting, hold them.”
Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation wants long-term funding to hire full-time therapists who would provide suicide intervention training and family counselling for months, or even years.
The community is holding a prayer vigil Tuesday night, and a community meeting Wednesday.
Where to get help: