Marathoners carrying messages of hope against suicide reach Cowichan

Runners Kelly Paul and John Sampson get hugs from Cowichan members during Saturday
Runners Kelly Paul and John Sampson get hugs from Cowichan members during Saturday's moving reception for the island's suicide-prevention Heliset Hale Marathon.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Suicide's been a secretive word among Cowichan Tribes' members — until Saturday.

That's when three members of the Heliset Hale Marathon reached Cowichan territory for a hero's welcome for bringing the painful issue to light.

"Suicide is a taboo to our people," said John Sampson, flanked by runners Bernice Smith and Kelly Paul at the Qwu'utsun' Cultural Centre.

"We've swept it under the carpet for too long now.

"We have to keep the word 'suicide' open; let's talk about it, let's understand we've lost too many friends and family."

Growing tragedy among Cowichan people in crisis prompted Chief Harvey Alphonse to call a state of emergency among his people after 60 suicide alerts by May 2012.

Four had ended in death a year ago.

It was unknown how much funding Health Canada had given Tribes toward suicide programs since last May.

The elders explained last year the band's suicide alerts had risen by more than 2 1/2 times in the five years previous.

Current suicide figures among Cowichan people were unavailable by press time.

But Smith honoured feelings before figures about troubled people taking their lives.

"This is a spiritual journey," she said of the 535-kiometre suicide-prevention awareness run, from Port Hardy to Victoria, that began May 18.

"Running is my form of prayer."

Runner Kelly Paul shared her prayers about helping folks who've taken their life, or are contemplating doing so.

"Awaken life within you. This run's about people being proactive rather than reactive," she said.

"Were sharing the same pain and the same joy.

"When we make strong individuals, we make strong communities."

Cowichan elder Arvid Charlie agreed.

He expressed dismay his people were told, starting back in 1880s, they were unfit to teach their kids the cultural ways of their ancestors.

"Where does teaching start? When do we start teaching our children? As soon as they're born," he told the QCC crowd that included Tzinquaw Dancers, and the Cowichan Spirit Drummers.

Charlie explained suicide isn't the right path to the hereafter for anyone.

"You have to earn that place, before you get there."

The three runners leave Cowichan's Si'em Lelum Gym Monday at 9:30 a.m. on the final leg of their journey to the capital.

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