11/08/2016 13:10 EST | Updated 11/09/2017 00:12 EST

Gathering in December: Chiefs asking youth for input on northern suicides

SASKATOON — A chief says it's about time for indigenous leaders to take charge of the youth suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan instead of going to funerals.

Ron Michel, grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council, says advice from young people on how to stop kids from taking their own lives will be critical.

Michel and Chief Bobby Cameron, of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, have announced a community medicine gathering in Prince Albert for Dec. 5 and 6.

Cameron says his group needs to gather input directly from youth, parents, experts and educators as it deals with the deaths of six young girls since mid-October.

Michel says he knows there are many young people who are role models in their communities.

He hopes they'll come away from the conference inspired to be sources of support for their peers.

"All of us around here were kids at one time, and you would sooner talk to your friend sometimes," he said Tuesday at a news conference in Saskatoon. 

Michel said he wants to assure young people that their voices will be heard and their suggestions taken seriously.

"We cannot stand by as leaders ... to go to funerals. We have to start doing something."

Cameron said the gathering is to feature presentations from experts and include a wide-ranging open forum for youth to bring their concerns and ideas to their leaders. It's to be the first of many meetings and indigenous leaders plan to keep the premier and children's advocate involved.

Cameron suggested a big part of the solution lies with the RCMP shutting down drug sales in the North.

He said if police can stop someone for not using a seatbelt, they should have no issue arresting people selling drugs to youth.

Cameron said he has received word that some of the recent suicides involving girls between 10 and 14 were related to drug use. Four of the girls were from the Lac La Ronge Indian band.

Cameron and Premier Brad Wall are to be in La Ronge on Wednesday.

Wall has said plans are in the works to increase mental-health resources and he's interested in the idea of a mental-health and addictions centre in the North.

Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian band, said last week that the key to stopping suicides will be letting young people know that people want to help them, their friends or family if they are hurting.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the suicides in northern Saskatchewan a tragedy and said the federal government is committed to working with indigenous communities to deal with the problem.

Health Canada has said more mental-health workers and other health-care professionals have been sent to communities that have requested them.

(CJWW, CKOM, The Canadian Press)