A connection to culture goes a long way in helping Indigenous youth feel like life is worth living.
Inspired by a Maclean’s article about how the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, BC has curbed youth suicide by finding a reconnection to land and culture, Holly Toulejour wants to help La Loche, Saskatchewan do the same. Toulejour started a gofundme campaign earlier this month to bring youth from La Loche to a camp in British Columbia over the summer, giving them the opportunity to learn about the Heiltsuk Nation, share skills and knowledge about Dene language and culture and deliver presentations on the history of La Loche.
“Growing up I didn't see girls in magazines who looked like me, or on TV, and this is still the case today. When you don't see yourself in mainstream media you almost feel like you don't exist in this world,” Toulejour told New Journeys. She added that La Loche has really suffered; there is so much violence and crime in the community, with youth feeling like they’re at fault and that there’s no way out.
Toulejour added that she hopes youth gain knowledge of their history and how La Loche developed, the impacts of colonization on their culture and how traditional medicines are used for healing. She also hopes they learn about hunting and fishing traditions of the past and about spirituality. These things—tools that can combat the suicide crisis—weren’t taught to her when she was young, and aren’t taught to youth in La Loche today.
“Our culture is our medicine. We are so resilient that our language and traditional practices have survived and this is our power,” she added. “We are not going to be healed by psychiatrists and mental health counselors alone, we need culture.”
Toulejour’s goal is to eventually build the camp up to eight weeks, so that youth can really get an immersive experience, and that hopefully, in a few years, La Loche can be where Bella Bella is at today.
The gofundme campaign has reached its $5,000 target, and Toulejour said any additional funds will be used to cover liability insurance, an oil change for the transportation vehicle and perhaps a fun trip or event along the way. Visit www.gofundme.com for more information.