Help is available and for the Tsideldel First Nation, and that is a message they want their youth to know.
Although emotions and pain still overwhelm the small, close-knit community that has experienced several losses by suicide, adults and young children did not hold themselves back from coming together to raise awareness on preventing such tragedy from reoccurring.
From their community west of Williams Lake 12 youth and seven adults rode on bicycles, dirt bikes or horses for four hours to the sacred traditional gathering place of Gwets’ilh (Siwash) in honour of those who have passed by suicide, including a late school staff member.
Those biking on Friday, Oct. 2 had their bicycles resized by community member Richard Lulua who had also checked the tires and lubricated the bicycle chains.
After stopping by Chilko River where they enjoyed a bagged lunch and prayed for the return of salmon, the youth who were joined by several other adults such as Chief Otis Guichon and Const. Daniel Kim of the Alexis Creek RCMP journeyed on.
“We wanted to create an opportunity where the youth could be supported to not only grieve that loss but grieve other losses they may have experienced in their own lives, and also do something active instead of feeling incapacitated by the grief,” said Tsideldel School counsellor Hana Kamea Kemble.
At Gwets’ilh the group gathered in a circle around a fire and spoke about the ride and what it meant to them.
The fire circle was led by Denisiqi Services Society restoring balance facilitator Bruce Baptiste, who had assisted in co-ordinating the ride and bringing down bikes and helmets from the Boys and Girls Club in Williams Lake.
“One of the things he [Bruce] had mentioned to the youth is we are strengthening them so that when they do have to leave the community to continue school they would feel strong enough mentally and that they’re going to be OK,” Tsideldel youth liaision worker Leyal Johnny said.
When Tsideldel school students complete their Grade 9 studies they have to go elsewhere to complete the remaining grades required to graduate. Many opt to make the two-hour trip to Williams Lake daily.
Baptiste said the pain of having lost friends and family to suicide never fades as seasons change and the years pass.
“It’s always there,” Baptiste said, noting he found there were few supports in the past.
While it was difficult for him to open up about his feelings, Baptiste said he self medicated with drugs and alcohol to cope with his own struggles.
“I think youth need guidance moving forward,” he added. “Life is not easy, and if they ever have to deal with (suicide) in their lives, especially at that young age, to let them know that there are people out there they can talk to and ask for help.”
Each attendee signed a pledge to work together to prevent any further suicides in the community by caring for each other, staying connected and looking out for one another.
“We will continue on our healing and on our wellness,” Johnny said, noting they hope to do a monthly ride starting next spring with their youth, and also start a bike program.
The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) confirmed it does not collect or keep health data around suicides.
“We recognize the ongoing challenges regarding access to care and ongoing systemic barriers to wellness,” FNHA said in a statement.
FNHA added historically, mental health issues and suicidal thought among First Nations people are reflective of those realities.