June 19th, 2024

Suicide risk among Indigenous youth addressed


By Lethbridge Herald on June 14, 2023.

Steffanie Costigan
LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is continuing its month-long celebration of the upcoming National Indigenous People’s Month. 

The topic of discussion Monday was Honouring Life, a comprehensive wellness program dealing with mental health and suicide prevention for Indigenous youth; the meeting was held through Zoom at noon.

 Nathaniel Chalifoux, one of the guest speakers, noted how culture creates security in the Indigenous future, and research has shown preserving culture within the youth has combated risks of suicide.

“Cultural connection and expression creates a sense of pride and increases feelings of security, belonging, and hope for the future, as strong cultural connections create a personal resource of benefit young people throughout their lives and in times of crisis. In researching this guide, we found many studies that corroborated this, explaining how communities that takes steps to preserve their culture and work to control their destinies are more successful in insulating youth against the risks of suicide,” said Chalifoux. 

Originally the AHS topic on Monday was going to be on Elder’s teachings but that was postponed to Thursday. 

Program manager of Ben Calf Robe Society, our Children are Sacred Youth Suicide Prevention Course (ECSI), Chrystal Thornton, talked about the trigger colonization had on Indigenous communities.

“It’s incredibly triggering in Indigenous communities, especially given the consistent cycle of suicide, and the role plays within the course itself was somewhat traumatizing for participants. So, we wanted to create something that made more sense for indigenous people and right, and that recognized and acknowledged the impact of the of colonization and the ongoing and continue to impact of colonization within communities,” Thornton said.

Thornton shared the development of the ECSI program and the collaboration of 12 to 15 frontline Indigenous workers from across Alberta stepping forward in 2020.

“We came up with an outline of what it was that people were seeing in the community, what it was, what types of discussions and conversations we felt would be essential for life promotion. I then took all of that outline, all of that material, we spent four full days brainstorming, I took all that material came back and got to work in creating what the program is today.”

ECSI course is made up of 12 different suicidal ideations modules; the first module teaches the definition explaining the difference between active and passive suicidal ideation. 

Sherry Letendre, fetal alcohol syndrome definition (FASD) youth mental health hub co-ordinator of Nimi Icinohabi Program, explained the approach she teaches Indigenous youth and encourages them to talk with their family members. 

“As a facilitator, I never told them, this is the way you do things because that’s not my place. As a facilitator, I gave them the information. And I always encourage them to go home and speak with their parents or grandparents or someone that, that they go to for teachings,” said Letendre. 

AHS will continue its month-long celebration of   National Indigenous People’s Month, with many open-to-the-public Zoom discussions and resources. Wednesday from noon until 1 p.m., the topic will be on the physicians discussion panel. Letendre said the disruption which took place in residential schools and the importance for the Indigenous community to reconnect with their culture.

“Families going into residential schools in the ‘60s group, there’s been a lot of family disruption disconnections. And so, it was really important for that reconnection to happen, not only knowing who we are as a community but knowing who are our relations are.”

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