Rally attracts a crowd

Taylor Zerr posts messages by solidarity rally participants on a board placed at the entrance to the office of Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley, Sept. 3.

A solidarity rally in support of the Walking with Our Angels suicide awareness campaign took place outside the downtown office of Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley on Thursday evening, Sept. 3.

A group of around 20 people attended the rally to show their support for Tristen Durocher of Walking with Our Angels.

Durocher walked over 600 kilometres from Air Ronge to Regina as a protest after a suicide prevention bill was not approved in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly. The bill was introduced by Saskatchewan NDP MLA Doyle Vermette, but the 44 Saskatchewan Party MLAs defeated the proposed legislation during a vote in the legislature.

Durocher arrived in Regina on July 31 and started a 44-day ceremonial fast at a teepee that was erected in Wascana Park near the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly. He is calling on the provincial government to take more meaningful action to address the high rate of suicide in Saskatchewan.

The purpose of the solidarity rally in Swift Current was twofold. It made a call on the provincial government to reconvene the legislature and pass a concrete suicide prevention bill. The rally also asked the provincial government to drop the court case against Durocher and Walking with Our Angels. The court application is seeking the removal of the teepee from Wascana Park.

Joey Donnelly was one of the rally participants. He was proudly wearing a Walking with Our Angels pin, which he received from Durocher at the site of his ceremonial fast in Regina.

“I went to see Tristen on his 12th day at the legislature,” Donnelly recalled. “I gifted him some firewood for his teepee and some honey and tea, and I just wished him well, and we had a conversation about suicide with his family and then he was very kind enough to give this pin. I cherished it very much, because I really respect the work that he's been doing. The dedication and the concentration that it takes to hold this kind of meditation and fast is really remarkable, and I really hope that people across Saskatchewan open their hearts and understand that this crisis in Saskatchewan is horrible.”

Saskatchewan Coroners Service statistics indicate that 2,338 people in the province have died by suicide from 2005 to 2019, of which 28 per cent were indigenous people. The suicide rates in northern Saskatchewan are nearly twice the provincial average. In 2018, the average suicide rate per 100,000 people in northwest Saskatchewan was almost 50 per cent higher than the provincial average rate.

“So I think now is a time for action,” he said. “We should be opening our hearts to indigenous people and find this shared understanding. Unfortunately, we see a lot of politicians refusing the cross the street at the legislature and meet with Tristen, who is more than willing to sit and talk with people, and I really hope that he can continue his demonstration until Sept. 13.”

Donnelly noted that the 44 days of Durocher’s ceremonial fast is symbolic of the 44 votes cast against the proposed suicide prevention bill in the provincial legislature.

“He's raising awareness and he's doing it through prayer and ceremony,” he said. “This is not a protest camp. People think he's protesting. This is not a protest. This is a ceremony, this is prayer. The indigenous people are peaceful people. They are here begging us to take action.”

The Swift Current rally was organized by local resident Stefan Rumpel, who will also be the Saskatchewan NDP candidate in the city during the upcoming provincial election. He felt compelled to organize the solidarity rally both in his personal and political capacity.

“It's important to me as an individual and it's important to us as a party,” he said after the rally. “It was Doyle Vermette's bill that was voted down that would have started real action in this front. So I'm here in both capacities. I want to support Tristen as an individual, and I know the NDP, we obviously think that there's not enough action on suicide in this province.”

The provincial government released a suicide prevention plan, called Pillars for Life, in May, but Rempel felt it is not sufficient to address the crisis.

“As it stands, it is another set of guidelines, which seems to be their same tired old playbook, instead of putting legislated enforceable action in place,” he said. “They continue to just do a generic document and then they say ‘We did it, we worked hard’ and it's like no, you didn’t, because there's no accountability. The legislated action that was presented in the bill by Doyle Vermette would have required actual check-ins every two years. There would have been the declaring of it being a public health crisis, which then forces actual action, because it is in the legislation that it needs to be done, whereas we've seen what guidelines do. Guidelines aren't enforceable, they're suggested.”

Rally participants carried placards and also wrote down messages on pieces of paper in the shape of golf balls, which was a reference to a Saskatchewan Party networking golf event that took place in Saskatoon on the same day as the solidarity rally.

“We wanted to say instead of being on the golf course, we wanted you actually at work for people and instead of just listening to the big corporate donors who can afford to be there, listen to the real people, the regular people on the ground,” Rumpel explained.

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