Reconnecting with culture touted

By Geoff Lee

November 10, 2016 12:00 AM

Looking for solutions to First Nations suicides

Reconnecting Indigenous youth to their traditional culture can help to end the current crisis of youth suicides in North Saskatchewan.
That was the overriding message from speakers at a First Nations’ youth suicide forum at Lakeland College on Nov. 3.
The forum was organized by Lakeland instructor Tom Groat, in the wake of six Indigenous youth suicides in Northern areas of the province last month.
“It just emphasizes what we have here is a pandemic or a crisis,” said Groat, who hoped the forum would create a healthy dialogue.
“I think that’s the way change occurs is through discussion and through that discussion, hopefully, an action plan,” he said.
Groat brought in Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre counsellor, Melva Tootoosis and Onion Lake First Nation elder, Verna Buffalo Calf, who both spoke about the need to reconnect with Indigenous cultural teachings.
“We have our own language, we have our own culture, we have our own therapeutic processes and we need to start incorporating them into the education systems and whatever support systems we have,” said Tootootis.
Tootootis told the forum Indigenous people are beginning to experience a paradigm shift of recovering their cultural identity after seven generations of cultural assimilation dating back to European settlement in Canada.
“We’ve gone through seven generations of darkness and hardship, and now we are reawakening and discovering that we’re human beings like anybody else,” she said.
She said the key to that recovery process and the prevention of youth suicides is to incorporate Indigenous cultural perspectives into the recovery process.
“It would identify who they are as a person, their language, their culture their physical and spiritual understanding of who they are as a human being,” said Tootoosis.
She added that helping Indigenous youth to build their self esteem and empowering them will help prevent suicide.
“We all go through life’s struggles and we need that support system and we need that direction and guidance in every aspect of our life,” she said.
Other youth suicide preventive factors noted at the forum are religion or spirituality, culturally relevant health care, community determination and family and peer support.
Dealing with youth suicides in Saskatchewan is the top priority for the province’s new and first Indigenous advocate for children and family, Corey O’ Soup, who took over the post on Nov. 1.
“We have to make sure there are enough mental health supports in communities,” said O’Soup in a statement.
“I would say we don’t have enough mental health workers in our schools.”
Buffalo Calf who works at the Ekweskeet Healing Lodge at Onion Lake had her own message for youth at the forum.
“We need to start loving ourselves so all this can eventually stop —suicide I mean,” she said.
She said news of the suicides in Northern Saskatchewan has hit Onion Lake hard, but talking with the youth about traditional teachings is good medicine.
“They were pretty sad when they heard all this stuff happening,” said Buffalo Calf, who noted Onion Lake has a good suicide prevention team.
“We have our team, the healing lodge and there’s also wellness and there’s also family services that’s there to help,” she said.
She said it is very important to continue to talk about it, especially with their youth.
“We have to talk about our feelings because it is a suppression of feelings and if we don’t address them they manifest themselves,” she said.
In the audience was Niska Nighttraveller, a third-year business student and member of Lakeland’s student Aboriginal Advisory Committee, who shared her thoughts on the forum.
“I think it’s really an important issue that people need to talk about,“she said
“I think it’s great that we had a panel here and we got to listen to some elders and wise words of wisdom from them,” she said.
“It creates awareness for everybody and to try to understand each other.”

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