Supporters from across the province joined the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Women’s Commission on Tuesday evening for a gift ceremony and prayers at Tristen Durocher’s tipi in Regina.
Durocher walked over 630 km from Air Ronge to the Saskatchewan Legislature prior to a ceremonial fast — The 24-year-old northern Saskatchewan man is remembering the province’s suicide victims while demanding concrete action on the issue from government.
With permission from families, Durocher has placed photos of suicide victims around his tipi.
“A lot of our ladies did recognize people from their communities, so it was very emotional. It brought a lot of triggers to them, a lot of memories of different individuals who have passed on,” said Shirley Henderson, chair of the Women’s Commission, in an interview.
“A lot of our ladies were breaking down and crying. We don’t have the services in our community that we need.”
The Women’s Commission is comprised of 14 women representing different communities in the PAGC, including Montreal Lake, Sturgeon Lake, Lac La Ronge and Cumberland House.
Henderson estimated that about 100 people attended the event. The group gifted Durocher with a Starblanket, which was blessed by residents of Sturgeon Lake First Nation, along with sweetgrass and sage.
They prayed together, hoping Durocher’s sacrifices will result in meaningful change. For 44 days, until Sept. 13, he’ll have lived off of only tea with honey and vitamins.
Those 44 days represent the 44 MLAs who defeated a suicide prevention bill brought forward by the NDP.
Henderson said she wants to see the government fund more support programs from a young age, when kids enter school.
“How do children cope and deal with issues they may have, may it be family issues, addiction issues? They should be able to start at that young age and talk about what’s happening in their homes rather than keep it bottled up inside,” she said.
“We’ve had suicides as young as eight and nine years old — They’re just children.”
Henderson said a lot of the women went great lengths to show support for Durocher. One woman from Wollaston Lake, for instance, pulled a cast off of her broken ankle, hopped into her truck, and drove down to the camp. That’s an over 1,060 km trip.
“Mental health services, therapists, are few and far between when they’re needed in the community. They have to travel a great distance,” explained Henderson.
Christopher Merasty, Men of the North founder who walked with Durocher, has put out a call for peaceful action. He’s asking the public to hold up signs outside of their MLA’s office on Sept. 3, asking the government to drop Durocher’s court case.
The government has taken legal action to have him and his tipi removed from the legislature’s grounds. On Aug. 13, the case was adjourned until Sept. 4.
“We decided to come from northern Saskatchewan … to support Tristen and give prayers,” said Henderson at the event on Tuesday evening.
“Those prayers are so badly needed.”