Life promotion vital to prevent future suicides.
APTN News: Delegates at the Dialogue for Life conference in Montreal heard that mental health awareness and support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is vital to keeping people stable.
“We’re looking to really bring back that connection because a lot of us felt so disconnected over the past couple of years,” said April Dedam, of First Nations and Inuit Suicide Prevention Association of Quebec (FNISPAQ), an organization that promotes mental health for Indigenous people. “And again, that brings us back to the whole issue of the pandemic. What many frontline workers are seeing in communities is that the new pandemic is mental health.”
The recent conference, organized by FNISPAQ, brought together Indigenous people from across eastern Canada to learn more about life promotion, suicide prevention and healing in Montreal last week. It’s the second conference this year – due to the pandemic, the 2022 edition was postponed until February 2023. Dedam said that two conferences per year could become the norm for the organization.
“In March , we’re looking at doing another conference that we received the additional funding for. That conference is going to be surrounding around returning our identities, carrying forth our identities, and really engaging our youth with our Elders,” said Dedam.
Stephanie Iancy Héroux Brazeau, who has been coming to the Dialogue for Life conference for years as a volunteer and, more recently, as a dancer at the conference’s powwow, said another conference would be helpful. “It’s medicine to dance, but it’s also medicine to receive the dance,” said Iancy Héroux Brazeau.
She finds it helpful to process the suicides that touched her Anishinaabe community of Lac-Simon, in northwestern Quebec. “Here we always get some reminders, there’s also a lot of healing work. Also, I think powwows are an opportunity where we can release what we need to release,” she said.
At the conference’s workshops, Iancy Héroux Brazeau said she’s learned that culture is vital to suicide prevention. “I think it’s key to return to our roots, to who we are, to be proud of who we are, to return to our ways of life that have been erased,” she said.
Dialogue for Life also offers healers and ceremony for attendees. Vivianne Snowboy, a Cree mother, led the Cedar Bath ceremony at the conference.
“I grew up in ceremony, and I’ve seen my father when I was a little girl, watching him help people and watching him create a safe space for them to heal and I’ve seen some amazing transformations amongst our people, especially the ones that you would think would never see change,” said Snowboy.
Snowboy also hosted a workshop about her work advocating for Indigenous people going through the justice system. She said the system worsens mental health of Indigenous people.
“The justice system really needs to take a step back, again, and we need our own restorative justice, because that’s what helps, that’s what helps our people and I’ve seen it help our people because then people are healing,” said Snowboy.
According to Marc Lafontaine, sharing circles can help people at the conference. Lafontaine, Innu from Ekuanitshit, hosted a workshop about his work trying to get men to open up. “My challenge is to get people, men especially, used to express themselves. Because ‘men don’t cry,’ but that’s not true. A man is strong, doesn’t talk, but he needs to express himself,” said Lafontaine.
He said traditional land-based activities can help men get more comfortable. “When they’re in the woods, there’s other men, yes, it’s wonderful. They’re more positive, happier, they talk more, make jokes, it changes. You change the environment, you change the mentality, the way of life of a man,” he said.
A queer Anishinabe man, Connor Lafortune, shared his life promotion toolkit he created with a group of young Indigenous people. “Often in the Western world, we’re talking about a very specific view of Indigenous people, and because of this toolkit we can change those narratives, we can switch it towards a strength base, and remove that deficit language that we’re often talking about Indigenous people,” said Lafortune.
This toolkit gives guidance to community workers on how to encourage young Indigenous people to value and accept themselves. “The experiences that have marked me the most are those emotional experiences that I’ve seen in community. Often there are folks that are coming in tears telling us that they finally feel seen and heard because of our toolkit,” he said.
Removing negative self-perception, said Lafortune, is key to life promotion: a more proactive approach than just suicide prevention.
“Suicide prevention is really something that is on the ground, it is taking folks out of the water just before they drown. It’s often the only option we have in communities. However, life promotion really takes a step back, keeps folks grounded and rooted into the earth, and it’s not even letting them seek the water in the first place,” said Lafortune.
For more information on future Dialogue for Life conferences, visit their website.