Water is powerful and sacred

Today was the first day of the 2nd World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference. The conference day started on the beach with a beautiful sunrise in Scarborough, Western Australia. Throughout the conference, we learned about the importance of being connected with the country. The country is not just the land, but also the water and the animals and people who live on it. When talking about the country, and one of the cycles in it, is our water cycle which all starts in the ocean. In order to stay connected with the country, some of the group went surfing Thursday morning before the conference. Surfing was a chance for group bonding through laughter and learning, while finding joy in the early morning as we began our day.

Water is a powerful and sacred thing that we sometimes take for granted. For example, on Turtle Island we have plenty of fresh water because of our great lakes and the surrounding fresh water lakes, but Australia is an island with oceans all around it with significantly less fresh water than Canada.

A wonderful highlight in the keynote speaker’s session was listening to Anna Betty Achneepineskum present on the Choose Life program for Community-Based Solutions in Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory. As she spoke, the entire room was intently focused on her message. The goal of this program is to improve the quality of life for all NAN citizens by connecting youth back to their culture and the land, while addressing gaps in mental health services for children and youth. The Choose Life program has changed the lives of many youth because it gets them more involved in their community with their Elders and other youth, while reconnecting them to their culture. Anna Betty spoke of the difficulty many NAN youth face while living in third world conditions. The community designed solutions through the Choose Life program are designed to help children and youth find hope. It is always important to have hope when living through difficult issues our communities face such as suicide.  Anna Betty delivered an inspirational speech of strength, unity, and success.

 A definite highlight of the day was having the privilege of speaking at this conference. Our group came together from communities access the NAN territory to share youth perspectives on Life Promotion. We had a full house with an interested audience from Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Canada. In the presentation, we discussed the remoteness of the NAN communities, challenges, NAN Life promotion initiatives, education, and some of our people’s history. We greatly appreciated the help of Martha Loon and Michael Heinzman for their contributions to our presentation. The discussion at the end of our presentation made me realize that Indigenous people in Australia face similar challenges that those in Canada face, such as their history of colonialism and its resonating effects still felt today.

The other group did an amazing job sharing with us their presentation called “To Have Hope”. They shared the seven grandfather teachings, along with their meanings. The group spoke about some cultural practices such as the significance of powwows and their dancers. They also shared moving stories about their personal experiences and how to overcome challenges and regain hope.

The formal was a celebration of people coming together from around the world. We got to see one of the youth preforming cultural dances while his father played the digeridoo and used spoken word poetry to share traditional stories. We also saw a world premiere of a song by Muskegowuk and Indigenous youth from Australian with singer/songwriter Glenn Skuthorpe.  It was also an opportunity to further discuss our presentation with the High Commissioner of Canada in Australia, Vice Admiral Paul Maddison RCN (Ret’d).

It was a privilege to present at this conference to share my perspectives and ideas and meet other youth. I would like to thank my amazing group members for making our presentation such as huge success. Thank you to the team at Nishnawbe Aski Nation for their exceptional organization and their continual support. Chi’ Miigwech to Marten Falls Chief and Council and community for their support of this experience.

Multi-nation Indigenous youth unite in solidarity after our presentation

Multi-nation Indigenous youth unite in solidarity after our presentation

Father and son sharing traditional story, music, and dance at the Gala event

Father and son sharing traditional story, music, and dance at the Gala event

Canadian delegates with the High Commisioner of Canada in Australia, Vice Admiral Paul Maddison RCN (ret’d)

Canadian delegates with the High Commisioner of Canada in Australia, Vice Admiral Paul Maddison RCN (ret’d)

Albany Sutherland