Indigenous Parents and Healing from Youth Suicide: “I Don't Know, I Just Pray.”


  • Marni Still University of Manitoba


Suicide, Indigenous, Loss, Grief, Canada, Manitoba, Trauma, Healing


Worldwide, Indigenous teens die by suicide and have more suicidal attempts than any other adolescent population and are overrepresented in every suicide statistic category. This study provides a new lens to look at Indigenous youth suicide through the perspectives of their parents, thereby giving them a voice in prevention and interventions. The findings of this qualitative study show that to help with their healing process, Indigenous parents require a connection to spirituality and culture, social supports, and an understanding that healing is lifelong, after the death or attempt of suicide by their child. Recommendations from this study are that Western systems adapt to focus on spirituality and culture in healing, as well as promote the destigmatization of suicide within Indigenous communities so that social supports can increase for parents who have experienced loss by suicide or suicide attempts by their children. In addition, professional helpers require more training in loss and grief, culturally relevant healing practices, and need to centre Indigenous knowledge in the creation of future intervention and postvention services.


Advisory Group on Suicide Prevention. (2002). Acting on what we know: Preventing youth suicide in First Nations. Ottawa: Health Canada.

Center for Suicide Prevention. (2013). Indigenous suicide prevention resource toolkit.

Chandler, M. J., & Lalonde, C. (1998). Cultural continuity as a hedge against suicide in Canada’s First Nations. Transcultural Psychiatry, 35(2), 191–219.

Dennis, M. (2021). Collecting grief: Indigenous peoples, deaths by police and a global pandemic. Qualitative Social Work: QSW : Research and Practice, 20(1-2), 149–155.

Dennis, M., & Washington, K. (2018). Ways of grieving among Ojibwe Elders: They’re all around us. They’re always. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 78(2), 107–119.

Elias, B., Mignone, J., Hall, M., Hong, S. P., Hart, L., & Sareen, J. (2012). Trauma and suicide behaviour histories among a Canadian indigenous population: An empirical exploration of the potential role of Canada’s residential school system. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 74(10), 1560–1569.

First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2018). The First Nations principles of OCAP.

Gosek, G. (2002). Towards an understanding of suicide among Aboriginal people (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.

Government of Canada. (2012). Suicide rates: An overview.

Government of Manitoba. (2021). Mental health crisis and non-crisis regional contacts. Health, Seniors and Active Living.

Klinic. (2021). Suicide bereavement counselling. Klinic Community Health.

Health Canada. (2015). First Nations mental wellness continuum framework: Summary report.

Kuipers, P., Lindeman, M., Grant, L., & Dingwall, K. (2016). Front-line worker perspectives on Indigenous youth suicide in Central Australia: Initial treatment and response. Advances in Mental Health,14(2), 106-117.

Lemstra, M., Rogers, M., Moraros, J., & Grant, E. (2013). Risk indicators of suicide ideation among on-reserve First Nations youth. Paediatrics & Child Health, 18(1), 15-20.

MacNeil, M. (2008). An epidemiologic study of Aboriginal adolescent risk in Canada: The meaning of suicide. (Author abstract) (Report). Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 21(1), 3-12.

Mota, N., Elias, B., Tefft, B., Medved, M., Munro, G., & Sareen, J. (2012). Correlates of suicidality: Investigation of a representative sample of Manitoba First Nations adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 102(7), 1353-61.

Smith, I., Hicks, N., Hawke, M., Alver, G. & Raftery, P. (2013). Living beyond Aboriginal suicide: Developing a culturally appropriate and accessible suicide postvention service for Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Advances in Mental Health, 11(3), 238-245, DOI: 10.5172/jamh.2013.11.3.238

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume one, Summary: Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. [Second printing]. James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers.

World Health Organization. (2018). Mental health topics – Suicide prevention. Retrieved from