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Mental health one affect of colonization says Mohawk psychologist

March 21, 2024

APTN News: Hundreds of delegates assembled at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg this week for the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s First Nations Health Gathering.

One of the issues discussed was Indigenous Peoples and mental health.

Ed Connors, a psychologist from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory outside Montreal, highlighted the impacts of colonialism on the mental health of Indigenous peoples.

“That colonization process, is one that’s ongoing, ever since that mind was developed. It’s ongoing to this very day,” says Connors who was part of a panel discussing different aspects of colonization.

Throughout his decades-long career, Connors said he’s worked closely with Indigenous communities on suicide prevention and life promotion. He argued that for youth and Elders alike, cultural connection plays a significant role in mental well-being.

“The youth basically were saying to us, ‘we’re losing our culture, we’re losing our ways, we’re losing our teachings, we’re losing our language.’ And as we do that, we basically don’t know, in essence, where we come from. We don’t know who we are,” Connors says.

Albert McLeod is a Two-Spirit knowledge keeper and human rights activist with ancestry from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Métis community of Norway House.

During his panel speech, McLeod spoke about the mental health of Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ individuals. He believes the homophobia and transphobia they experience is intricately linked to colonialism.

“I think fear in colonization, fear of loss of control by colonizers in the 21st century is really driving this anti-trans, anti-2SLGBTQ movement,” McLeod says. “It’s nostalgia for the past, and we can’t go backward in our society. We can only go forward as a democratic society.”

A 2023 report by the Trevor Project on Mental Health and Well-Being of Indigenous LGBTQ Young People in the United States, found that over half of Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ youth reported seriously considering suicide in the past year. Nearly a quarter attempted suicide.

New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta have implemented policies restricting gender expression in schools for trans and gender-diverse youth.

Despite the challenges that remain, McLeod says there are ways to promote the inclusion of Indigenous and two-spirit LGBTQ+ people within policy-making circles.

“(Indigenous communities can) create two-spirit specific governance models like councils that guide, and advise and have opportunities to promote policy, to promote local legislation, and their ideas of health, and healing, and wellness and employment as well,” McLeod says.

As the conference comes to a close, McLeod says he appreciates how forward-looking it is.

“It’s about reconciliation and decolonizing health. As Indigenous people across the Americas, we’ve done that for generations,” he says. “Now it’s time to actualize it, and live it, and experience it as we move into the future.”

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