In 2013, the First Nations Health Authority – the first of its kind in Canada – assumed the health-related programs, services and responsibilities for First Nations peoples in BC that were formerly handled by Health Canada. The FNHA has 5 health regions in BC, with Vancouver Island being one of the regions. Within the Vancouver Island Region, there are three families: Kwaguilth (north island), Nuu-chah-nulth (central island) and south island. The Nuu-chah-nulth/central island family meets regularly, and representatives attend a FNHA Gathering Wisdom conference in Vancouver each year.
Myself, Chief Anne Mack, and Lisa Morgan, Director of Community Services, attend FNHA meetings as representatives for the Toquaht Nation. In April 2015, we attended a regional forum on suicide prevention called ‘Hope, Health and Healing.’ Forums share stories, give participants best practices that may benefit their communities, and highlight tools to use for healing, especially through traditional knowledge. It is important to develop capacity within communities by using customs and traditions unique to our cultures.
The ‘Hope, Health and Healing’ Forum on Suicide Prevention presented a Planning Toolkit for First Nations and Aboriginal Communities to Prevent and Respond to Suicide. Best practices included: prevention, intervention and postvention (PIP).
- Strengthening community resilience to reduce factors that lead to suicide ideation….Hope
- Intervention focuses on how best to respond to thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide…Help
- Postvention refers to the community response after a death by suicide has occurred, and provides follow-up education/prevention to reduce the risk of future crises…Healing
Many facilitators came to discuss what works for them as they watch and detect a person’s grief or loss, which can lead to suicide ideation. Many participants discussed how healing it is to learn our traditional languages. John Rampenen experienced this with his family, who is learning immersion nuučaanuł every day. Language is medicine that teaches us of our roots (mułmumpc). Language reconnects us with our territory, our family and community. Our spirit connects with us in the land, forest, sea, sky, and islands (hiłhnuuk teečmis – our way of life). Wał šuʔalł – went home. Traditional practices protect our identity and self-worth.
A Vancouver Island Crises Response Protocol has been developed with Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority. Quu-asa Techectl welcomes culture, brushings, ‘letting go’ healing ceremonies, and clinical counsellors. They also provide team gatherings each year with one day for cultural learning. Tsow-tun-le-lum Treatment Centre has programs for addictions, such as an Intensive Trauma Program which asks clients to have at least six months clean/sober and/or working with a support group. Another program is Paddling Your Own Canoe, on co-dependency.
Toquaht strives to build up cultural revival of history, language and culture. We envision a cultural education centre as an integral part of Toquaht citizens’ ‘coming home’ as our community continues to develop.
— Chief Anne Mack