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Kashechewan hosts suicide workshops

Thursday March 6, 2014
Julie Wesley/Special to Wawatay News

David Blacksmith delivers a workshop in Kaschechewan First Nation.

Two Kashechewan First Nation members took it upon themselves to host a Suicide Workshop in their community to help spread awareness of the issue of suicide.

Jenesse Martin and Julie Wesley organized the three-day workshop, which was open to the public including surrounding communities.

The workshop itself was something Martin had wanted to do “for two to three years now.”

“In our community, we have a lot of (suicide) attempts from people of all ages,” said Martin, who is the administrative assistant at the power corporation in Kashechewan. She also sits on the First Nation council and holds the health portfolio.

“The suicide attempts here are really high and we wanted to have a workshop during the winter months so local communities could take part.”

Wesley, who is an addictions worker with National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP), was asked by Martin to help create the workshop with her.

“I’m really passionate about helping my community because the suicide rates are coming up,” Wesley said. She said there were a couple of suicide attempts in the area around the date of the workshop.

“It’s really hard for people to heal themselves because sometimes they don’t even know there is anything wrong,” Wesley said. “They’re very disclosed about everything, so you know that’s why the rates are up.”

Wesley said that she understands how the community is feeling when it comes to thoughts of suicide. Wesley had experiences where she thought a lot about suicide herself.

“I wanted to commit suicide. I used to think about ways I was going to do it,” Wesley said.
“I thought of suicide because I was at a point where it was pointless for me to be here. I was literally alone for my whole life. I decided I wanted to end my life.”

Wesley attempted suicide, but she survived and she took it as a sign.

“I was not supposed to leave right now,” Wesley said. “Since I am spiritually awake, my passion is why I want to help the people.”

Martin and Wesley invited David Blacksmith, a medicine man from Winnipeg, to speak at the workshops. Blacksmith said that he has been working with youth for most of his life.

“It is so important to teach them the good things in life, they need to know that someone loves them, someone will help them,” Blacksmith said. “To take one’s life in the act of suicide is not the way to solve a problem.”

Blacksmith said First Nations people commit suicide at a rate four times higher than non-First Nations in Canada.

“We need to talk about what is really wrong with us and bring it out in the open,” Blacksmith said. “The kids know — we just have to work with them. We must go back in time to see what went wrong.”

Like Wesley, Martin was happy with how the workshop turned out.

“I think the feedback that I got was that the workshop was a real door opener for people,” Martin said. “People came forward and brought up things that they were carrying, and it was really good. What I wanted to do from this was find out what other areas my community would need help with.”

Wesley said that the workshop included a sharing circle with the community members.

“A lot of them opened up about their stories, they shared their stories that had anything to do with suicide and depression and where their pain comes from,” Wesley said.

Martin explained that there were a lot of social issues discussed that often lead to suicidal thoughts, like drug and alcohol dependency, forms of abuse, gambling addiction, and mental health issues.

Martin said that the community members who participated would like to see more workshops because they would be helpful and beneficial to them. She would like to see more training in her community for frontline workers.

“I’d like to see more training and support services for them so they can facilitate more workshops in this area,” Martin said.

Martin and Wesley are now looking ahead to next year and hope to host a larger conference where participants have a selection of workshops to choose from. They are considering forming a group to help plan the conference.

“I just think in order to heal our people we must work together,” Wesley said. “The more we are waking up, the more we can get help for each other.”

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