Michael Hawkins, Bishop of Saskatchewan and chair of the Council of the North, says members of the council want to see how their dioceses can contribute to suicide prevention. Photo: Art Babych
The Rev. Ginny Doctor, Indigenous ministries coordinator, says she spoke recently with Michael Hawkins, bishop of Saskatchewan and Council of the North chair, about working together more on the crisis.
Their conversation came about as a result of discussions at the latest fall meeting of the council, Oct. 18-20, in Toronto. A desire to contact Doctor was expressed after council members spent a morning discussion their own experiences of suicide and suicide prevention, Hawkins says.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s suicide prevention program was originally handled by the Council of the North, but the council asked Indigenous ministries to take it over because it lacked the staff necessary to deal with it. Now council members want to renew the council’s connection with the program, he says, and see what resources or expertise their dioceses might be able to contribute.
In many places in the north, and especially among Indigenous people, suicide is “a constant reality in people’s hearts and lives, homes and families and communities,” Hawkins says. “Our commitment to face it, to walk with people and to work on the crisis, has got to be long term.”
Such work could also involve collaboration with groups outside the Anglican Church of Canada, he says.
About a year and a half ago, the diocese of Saskatchewan put on an applied suicide intervention skills training workshop in collaboration with the Prince Albert Grand Council. The diocese sponsored the event and the grand council supplied the trainers, Hawkins says.
“Part of that was just to build bridges between mental health workers and the clergy, so they can trust each other, know what each other’s role is, and how they can refer people to each other,” he says.
When it comes to preventing suicide, there’s a role for both secular and sacred forms of help, he says—for spiritual care as well as forms of mental health promotion ranging from medication to recreational therapy.
“Whatever you can say about suicide, people are hurting at the deepest level of their identity and being, and for us we call that the soul or the spirit. We need healing in our whole person, but it’s got to include that part,” he says. “I think people need hockey rinks. I also think they need to find their unshaken identity in God—I don’t think those two things are in competition.”
Indigenous ministries has published a resource, announced late last year, for suicide prevention, Doctor says. One of her top priorities now is holding a consultation session to develop a plan of action, she says. She is now working now on a list of key participants.
Doctor, too, sees a vital role for the church in suicide prevention. She locates a key cause of the higher suicide rates among Indigenous people in the historical trauma that has wounded them through generations.
“In essence, our people are grieving and they are in pain,” she says in a letter recently emailed to Hawkins and other leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada.
But many young Indigenous people are also suffering from a lack of knowledge about the spirit, she says.
“Our young people are struggling to know who they are as Indigenous people,” she says. “Many have not been spiritually formed and this is critical to their identity and self-esteem. There is a great need to increase the faith and recognition of the Creator in our communities.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for First Nations youth and adults up to the age of 44.
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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