Attracting survivors, professionals and families from around the province, the 2014 First Nations and Inuit Suicide Prevention Association of Quebec and Labrador (FNISPAQL) conference was about honouring those who soldier on after loss and those who work with them.

20141126_122139Bringing together frontline workers for the three-day pre-conference trainings followed by three days for the families and others whose lives have been touched by suicide, this year’s event – held at the Montreal Sheraton Hotel November 22-27 – attracted over 600 delegates from various First Nation and Inuit communities throughout Quebec to share, learn and grow.

According to Director Thelma Nelson, this annual event, which began in 2001, has numerous people returning every year to share stories about their healing and to support those who are just embarking on their journey to heal. She described the participants as a mix of newcomers and repeat visitors.

As a different theme is explored every year through workshops, ceremonies and healings, Nelson said this year’s event was about addressing the child and the inner child.

“When we say honouring our children, we automatically think about actual children, but there are so many adults who are still children because of the trauma that they have experienced. So we are basically honouring everybody here and everyone who survives,” said Nelson.

As the FNISPAQL always tries to accommodate the changing needs of the various communities throughout the province, Nelson said new programming this year was about addressing the needs of abused men as they too have suffered violence through relationships and residential schools. According to Nelson, this new workshop received an excellent response.

“We have to stop sticking our heads into the sand like ostriches. We have to deal with our murdered and missing women, our abused men, our youth who are not getting services and are having a hard time. There are suicides in all of the communities and there is still a lot to deal with,” said Nelson.

According to Nelson, part of the event is to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to their communities and made a difference. This year’s Police Officer of the Year Award was given to Waswanipi’s Kimberly Gull, who was honoured with a plaque at the banquet event.

Gull wasn’t the only Eeyouch at the event. Oujé-Bougoumou’s Glen Wapachee said he was meeting a lot of people from different communities and making friends as they could bond over shared experience.

“Many of the people here went to residential schools and they are going through the same problems that I am going through. For me, it is good to hear that I am not the only one who experienced these horrors in residential school. This helps me a lot because in our community we don’t have very many who come to give us the workshops that we need to deal with our problems and issues,” said Wapachee. “Being here has given me a broader sense of what is happening outside of my own community.”

For Chisasibi’s Bobby Neacappo, who attended the event last year, the conference is an opportunity to share the knowledge he has learned over the years.

“This is not the first time I have come here. We have learned many things here as every Nation is different,” said Neacappo. “I have learned much myself. When I was drinking, it was something that I had wanted to quit. I respect who I am now. I am Cree. This is why I stopped drinking – it has been almost 30 years now. I understand now that alcohol is not for me and it is not something of our Nation. I am not saying that it is bad people who are still drinking, I still respect them.”

According to Julianna Snowboy, who was there on behalf of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) as part of the mental-health team, the conference was a great opportunity to learn about new programs and she was enjoying every moment of it.

“My team and I have been going to the different workshops because we are in the midst of trying to choose and develop programming and service delivery within the Cree Nation,” said Snowboy.

“It is really good to see all of these different workshops because we are hopeful that we may have some access to these types of workshops back at home – so in a way we are kind of shopping around.”

Snowboy, who has a background in psychology, said a large part of what she was looking for was post-care programming that could be available to individuals she feels are experiencing a service gap as sometimes the communities don’t have anything available for those returning home from a treatment centre. And, as some communities only have psychologists available for a month at a time, the need for these kinds of programs increases.

“I want to see what other people and First Nations are doing in their communities. We want to close that gap, not only using stuff from the western medical model, but also the traditional or holistic model of healing.

“Many of the Nations here are incorporating the teachings of their people and the rights of passage into their programs and this is what I am drawn to here,” said Snowboy.

According to Cree Regional Authority Director of Justice and Correctional Services Donald Nicholls, he and his team were on hand because they deal with frontline work. His department often deals with individuals who are facing addictions and who are in the most difficult places in their lives.

“The trainers here really help the staff when working with our clientele in Justice and Corrections. We try to attend every year so that we can benefit not only from the workshops and the trainings, but also to meet and network with people who are in similar situations and find out how they approach and handle things. We really benefit from these types of conferences, and since this one is the largest of its type in the province it allows us to get together with people who are working with similar types of clientele,” explained Nicholls.

Looking at the event from the perspective of a healer, Mike Standup, a Mohawk Spiritual Healer from Kahnawake, was on hand to help those in distress after participating in workshops. Having attended the conference for many years, he said he can see an incredible progression in some of the clientele.

“This year for me has been quite a learning experience. Many people, who I have seen in previous years, have been coming up to me sharing news about of their lives. Many of them are repeat clients and they are now talking about themselves using positive words and this, for me, has been very uplifting. I feel my work I do has been validated,” said Standup.

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