WINNIPEG - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says restoring indigenous languages is key to preventing youth suicides in First Nation communities.

But he but stopped short of promising to recognize them as official languages.

Trudeau told a virtual town hall with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Winnipeg that languages are at the core of indigenous culture and identity.

He says communities that do a better job of teaching their own language and culture see "massive decreases in suicide rates."

Trudeau pointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools which found preventing children from learning their own language was a powerful tool of assimilation.

He says Canada needs to counter that by celebrating indigenous languages.

A rash of suicides -- with some victims as young as 13 -- has prompted several First Nations to declare states of emergency in the past few months.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, says part of that despair stems from past racist policies which made people ashamed of their culture and language.

She says officially recognizing indigenous languages would give First Nations their "rightful place" in Canada.