Colonization root of suicide crisis: Psychologist

By Bryan Eneas
December 6, 2016 - 5:00pm

Shifting from a reactive to a proactive response to tcrisis has been the Prince Albert Grand Council's (PAGC) topic of discussion over the last two days.

Dr Darien Thira is a psychologist with experience worldwide in addressing suicide in Indigenous communities.

Tasked with addressing the suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan, Thira is arming citizens, frontline workers and leaders of the PAGC with techniques to speak to “at-risk” youth.

He said the most important step moving forward is to address the colonial system, and the damages it has left behind.

“The reason we have a problem with suicide now is because of colonization,” Thira said. “It's not the community's fault at all.

He said suicide is not a metal health crisis. While mental health professionals are needed, he said suicide is a natural expression of the disparity communities feel.

Thira explained the work communities must do is focus on “cleansing” colonization and healing the wounds left behind from previous colonial systems. His role as the keynote speaker at PAGC's medicine gathering is to educate communities and provide them with the tools to adequately address future crisis situations.

Thira said the most important thing when working with Indigenous communities is to work as an ally.

“Since the colonizer arrived they've been saying 'we know what's better for you than what you know,' and the result has been the community has come to feel somewhat helpless relying on outside experts,” Thira said. “When I say the community is the medicine what I mean is the community has all the tools it needs to take care of its own.”

Thira said when it comes to working with communities, it's about using systems which have been in place for centuries.

“Communities have been preventing suicide for as long as they've been around; which is forever,” Thira said. “Preventing suicide means living well, and living well is what makes you resilient.”

Thira said he was called on to present to the gathering, but has no problem visiting individual communities if asked.

“Our role in the community is to take on that caregiving role, and also the role that demands people take responsibility for their lives in a good way,” Thira said. “By giving people an opportunity for empowerment, by not doing things for them that they can do for themselves.”

While the workshop was designed to capture youth's attention, Thira said he was happy to see a number of important frontline workers in the crowd. He hopes those who attended over the last two days will take what they've learned back to their homes.

In the past, Thira has worked with many Indigenous communities addressing the topic of suicide. His doctoral dissertation pertained to Indigenous suicide resilience and social activism. His Through the Pain suicide prevention program has been implemented in 40 different Indigenous communities across Canada and Australia. His Choices youth suicide awareness educational video has been used by more than 250 programs worldwide.

The medicine gathering concludes today, with over 200 people returning to their home communities around Saskatchewan.


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On Twitter: @BryanEneas

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