Cowichan Tribes shining light on a dark subject

Shaun Atleo speaks during the Circle of Light gathering on Tuesday. - Krista Siefken
Shaun Atleo speaks during the Circle of Light gathering on Tuesday.
— image credit: Krista Siefken

Cowichan Tribes shone light on a dark subject during a community gathering aimed at preventing suicide among band members.

The Circle of Light forum featured National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, and brought youth, their parents and elders together to discuss the taboo topic.

"There is still a great struggle ahead for all of us as First Nations," Atleo told the packed room at the Travelodge Silver Bridge Inn. "Thank you for having the courage to come together today."

Atleo talked about the importance of traditional teachings, and spoke about the strength found in family relationships.

"Let's tackle these challenges together," he said.

That was a common theme highlighted again and again during Tuesday's gathering.

"We believe that the family is the core," Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse told the News Leader Pictorial. "That's where we need to begin."

Alphonse said he requested the gathering in response to recent losses.

Four members of the community have been lost to suicide in the past month or so, Tuesday's gathering heard.

And First Nations leaders want to make sure no more lives are lost.

"It's historical," Alphonse said. "This has happened in the past where we had a number of losses, and our communities got together and shared some teachings, shared some testimonials, and reached out to the young people."

Alphonse stressed that help is available — Cowichan has counsellors who can work with those who are feeling hopeless or lost.

"However," he added, "that does not stop the family members from reaching out to an individual who is possibly in depression, or grief, or may have some thoughts about taking their own life."

Alphonse said the youth seemed receptive to the messages, and he hopes that work can continue during the next gathering on April 11 at the Somenos Longhouse.

"I'd like to offer my deepest condolences to the families who are in sorrow right now," Alphonse added. "And I'd like to encourage people to listen. If a young person, or an adult, is talking about this, stop and listen and take it seriously. Even if it seems like there isn't anything wrong, stop, and listen."

People who are struggling with thoughts of suicide can call the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888. Cowichan Tribes' band office can be reached at 250-748-3196.

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