The Seabird Island Band isn't going through the type of youth suicide crisis that other First Nations communities like Attawapiskat are facing — there hasn't been a suicide death there in more than a year.
But Seabird Island is home to a pilot research project aimed at reducing youth suicides. The Seabird Youth Resiliency Project is federally funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and its goal is to create a model to take to other First Nations communities.
The idea behind the project is to build personal strength in youth by connecting them to the land and traditional culture that has been lost during decades of colonialism — to build an identity that gives young people a feeling of meaning and place in the community.
"We’re trying to teach our youth to know who they are," says Margaret Pettis, a Seabird Island Band counsellor and the elders' representative for the Youth Resiliency Project. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
"It was taken away from us, it was stripped from us in the residential school. We were never to speak, we were never to practice any of our traditions we had in the past," said Margaret Pettis, band council member and elders' representative for the project. Pettis — who lost her nephew to suicide in 1991 and her brother in 2014 — said Seabird Island was a good fit for the pilot project because it already had a strong network of programs.
"Our younger generations haven't had a chance to sit down to walk with us, to find out who they are, really are, to getting to take care of what they have in life," said Chief Clem Seymour, 62, who has five grandchildren of his own.
'Walk with my elders'
"I had a chance to walk with my elders, getting to understand, to listen to them, to listen to the stories about why our people are still here, why we've been here for over 10,000 years." Seabird Island Chief Clem Seymour says teens need to be given the opportunity to "walk with their elders," to follow, watch and learn from them. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
The program runs on Thursdays, and youth are placed with elders who show them everything from how to gather local edible plants, to where the best fishing spot are on the Fraser River.
Reid Peters, 67, has taken the teens out three times. Though he spent much of his life outside the community as a logger, his specialty is actually the local geography — but he can also show the teens the best way to pick stinging nettle to eat or use as an anaesthetic. "I came up and I showed them the river and what it was like 62 years ago and how much erosion has happened since then, and I just wanted them to know that we are losing our land," said Peters, gesturing to the shore of the Fraser River. "I showed them where the railway had blocked the river off and I showed them where the water had gone." Reid Peters, 67, has been teaching teens about the land and where the Fraser River used to flow around the Seabird Island community, which has been a peninsula for more than 60 years. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Michael Joseph, 15, spent most of his life living in apartments across the Lower Mainland, but now lives at Seabird Island and has recently enjoyed learning the traditional indigenous culture.
"It's a pretty good program," he said. "[We learned] many things what you can use with dandelions, stinging nettles, anything."
Joseph has recently taken an interest in drumming and singing and has reportedly show his confident side when taking part in performances.
Michael Joseph, 15, says he mostly learned non-native culture growing up in apartments around the Lower Mainland. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Kelly has taken a liking to the project, too. "I learned how to make teas and a lot of medicines and a lot of stuff," she said. "It's just fun to learn new stuff and how to make medicines."
Build their Youth Centers for them, at their own home land!
National Conversation | Attiwapiskat suicide crisis
Posted: Apr 20, 2016 12:34 PM ET
National Conversation | Attiwapiskat suicide crisis13:50
Over the last few days, as the cameras and the politicians left, there were more attempted suicides by young people in Attawapiskat. Joseph Boyden, Cindy Blackstock, and Chelsea Jane Edwards share their insights.
Roger Cultee shared Freddy Lane's video.
NW Coast Wisdom - You are the Medicine !
Freddy Lane added a new video: Uncle Armour Joe James on why YOU are important.
Bellingham, WA · Beautiful words from Armour Joe James about suicides.