Coyote Tales: Truth about life and death for indigenous girls and women

Every day I wake up and make a conscious choice to choose living. Most days its easy, but not every day. It is a choice that I can make because of the cultural values and teachings that are given to me by the elders and teachers in the community, where I have been accepted as a member. Even though I have struggled with depression most of my life these factors give me hope to keep going.

As a teenager, I struggled with suicidal thoughts, but only recently have I come to really understand the relationship between being an indigenous woman and suicide.

Our young indigenous women (and men) are growing up in a world that tells them their future isn’t that hopeful.

When our young people experience higher rates of social isolation, bullying, rejection, family break down, loss of cultural values and traditional practices, suicide can become a way to escape the overwhelming hopelessness. According to the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey, more than one in five off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit adults report having suicidal thoughts.

I think most people know suicide rates among indigenous peoples in Canada are several times higher than rates among non-indigenous people. Some people might even know that according to Health Canada, rates of suicide for youth are considered to be amongst the highest in the world.

I would challenge that most people think this issue is happening “over there,” and not here in Red Deer but the local community is very much aware of the crisis facing our local young people.

Talking about suicide is difficult for most of us but the actions of our indigenous and non-indigenous young people are screaming a message that can’t be ignored.

Unless we talk about it, we can’t prevent it. It affects everyone in our community and I feel like the only way I can begin to deal with my own feelings of grief and loss is to share my hope for a better future.

The key to stopping suicides is letting our young people know how important they are to the future of our communities and being there to support them in their every day struggles.

Red Deer has a growing cultural community that is creating places of belonging for our youth. We need to work together with non-indigenous agencies to ensure that the cultural view of mental health and wellness is promoted.

The National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy suggests that indigenous community-based prevention programs and culturally-based wellness activities hold the greatest hope for our young people. Nationally, Friendship Centres have traditionally been these places, but under funding leads to inconsistent programming, making it impossible to maintain the community relationships necessary for youth to maintain balance in their lives.

Public support for indigenous-led youth programming is our best hope for vibrant indigenous youth.

The First Nations Women’s Council and the Métis Women’s Council were created by the Government of Alberta to work together to provide recommendations that offer the promise of improved economic security for indigenous women in Alberta.

Participating on this council with some of the most incredible indigenous women in the province keeps me optimistic that things are getting better for indigenous girls and women.

Currently the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre and The Leadership Centre of Central Alberta is offering the Indigenous Leadership Certificate, a personal development program that is helping youth deepen their cultural knowledge, develop leadership skills and gives youth opportunity to earn high school credits for completing various activities in the program. For more information about youth activities, contact The Red Deer Native Friendship Centre at 403-340-0020.

Tanya Ward-Schur is the director of the Asooahum Centre.

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