Our government just took a space of community grieving to court.
Tristen Durocher, a 24-year-old Métis fiddler from La Ronge, finished a 44-day long ceremonial fast this week along with the Walking With Our Angels group, who joined in an over 600-kilometre walk to Regina from La Ronge. The 44 days in that fast corresponded to the 44 Saskatchewan MLAs who voted down a suicide prevention bill, one seriously needed for Indigenous youth in the north. This bill was proposed to address the gaps of our current “Pillars of Life” model, which does not account for the needs of many northern communities.
In a previous piece, I wrote about how Durocher’s ceremony was part of a pattern of racism being unjustly left out of the conversation surrounding mental health and suicide. Those feelings are unchanged. I have read the accounts of so many people over these 44 days who were comforted and heartened by their visits to the camp at Wascana, precisely because, I think, these deaths are no longer allowed to pass while pushed aside by our government’s horrible sense of “priorities.” Now, I am writing to express my deep respect and appreciation for Durocher and all who supported him – emotionally, spiritually and materially – but mostly to express my deep disappointment and disgust with a city and province that, with the power they had, turned a blind eye to the people they claim to serve.
As Durocher said in an interview with PA Now, in the days that people gathered only steps away from the legislative building where the people with the power to create more robust suicide prevention plans worked, there was a deeply shameful lack of response. Tristen cites “no acknowledgment of our [Walking With Our Angels’] existence here[,] outside of minister Lori Carr coming to tell me she’s working on a court injunction for our removal from the park.”
The priority for the city of Regina was to eject the ceremony, the teepee, and the photos of people who had lost their lives – not to do anything to address why that space came together, not to pay respects to the people who were honored there. This was a loud announcement that the Saskatchewan government, that Canada at large, values the colonial notion of land as property more than they value the lives on that land. And although it was a victory when the judge in this case ruled that the ceremony “was allowed” to continue without incident, the very fact that Indigenous people on Treaty 4 territory need to fight to congregate on their own territory, that this state would see a Metis man taken to court for engaging in ceremony to address community grief, is absolutely monstrous.
Many of those who had been with Walking With Our Angels for its journey and stay joined Durocher in cutting their hair, joining their braids together in a noose, and then burning it to symbolize “that [they] are done allowing our state halls of power to have heartlessness, contempt, and let it burn policies when it comes to the lethal realities taking place on Indigenous communities across the province.” The city of Regina, our province, our state, and those who represent it should watch this in deep shame.
Scott Moe has apparently just sent a letter to Trudeau with suggestions for his throne speech. He talks about the carbon tax, infrastructure projects, and “western alienation.” But he didn’t have a second to look a suicide epidemic in the eye. Jason Kenney came down here from Alberta to defend a statue of John A. MacDonald; how much longer do we have to wonder where sympathy lies?
For everyone who was involved in delivering tea, firewood, funds, and setting up camp, and for everyone who has done too much grieving because of negligence and institutional violence, we all need to raise an alarm to the state of our suicide prevention and mental health services. We need to support grassroots community care like Durocher’s whenever we see it, too. Meanwhile, we can keep wondering how Scott Moe could watch this all happen and go to sleep at night.