Feds commit mental health funding to northern First Nations

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty (left) speaks while Lac La Ronge Chief Tammmy Cook-Searson (centre) and Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott (right) look on during Wednesday’s funding announcement in La Ronge. (Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald)

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was in La Ronge Wednesday to announce more than a million dollars in new mental health funding for Saskatchewan’s north.

The funding will pay for two mental wellness teams, one for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and one for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation. The two First Nations – Saskatchewan’s largest – will each receive $262,500 per year for two years.
“As I’ve talked to leaders, as I’ve talked to health workers,” Philpott said, “I have heard over and over again that mental health is one of the top priorities.”
The commitment will bring the total number of mental wellness teams to ten province-wide. They bring together a range of mental health workers, professionals, elders and community members to combat mental illness in culturally sensitive ways.

Both Lac La Ronge and Peter Ballantyne were struck by a wave of suicides last fall, when young girls took their own lives in La Ronge, Stanley Mission and Deschambault Lake. Philpott pointed out that suicide rates on First Nations are five to seven times higher than in the rest of the country, and said she’s well aware that the crisis disproportionately affects remote northern communities.

“The number of suicides, particularly among young women in northern Saskatchewan’s First Nations communities, was alarming in this past year,” she said. “We all need to act collectively; we need to act now to protect life, to prevent suicide and to support better mental, physical and spiritual health in First Nations communities.”

Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said the funding will help her band supplement existing programs that focus on prevention and recovery.

For more on this story, please see the April 20 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.