Institutional Hope

Today on World Suicide Prevention Day I want to talk about the way we tell kids to “have hope” that things will get better. To start, I agree we should be asking kids and everyone to have hope. It’s a great idea. However, telling people what to do, and showing them how to do it are two very different ways of getting there.

I have lost many young people before their time to suicide and hopelessness. These young people were talented, smart, gifted and overcoming great systemic challenges. Some of the challenges these youth were facing were in the form of the justice system, child welfare, the education system, employment insurance/welfare and inadequate housing, mental health & addiction supports. For me, it’s personal as I know the feeling all too well of not seeing hope in any of the adults or systems around me – as young as the age of ten. Did you know that 10 is the average age First Nations, Metis or Inuit kids first contemplate suicide?? We have to do better for our kids.

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I often point to the village as an example of Indigenous people creating a new system with traditional values in our modern/urban times. These individuals and helpers are the hope that motivate and inspire me and I hope they inspire our youth too! But too often, these helpers are our neighbours and relatives and do not have access to changing systems or that level of influence or power. That is why as adults we have to show them that we ARE changing systems and we have to be able to show them where in those systems, policies or institutions they can find tangible evidence/reasons to have hope. Pretty words and apologies are not enough. Change the policy. Update the legislation. Bend the colonial, rigid or restricting rules in ways that help human beings and are moral and equitable. It is no longer enough to “listen” to Indigenous or youth voices – we must include them in the design, delivery and evaluation of any initiative or solution that is proposed.  I’m proud to have been involved in life saving projects like the Kids Help Phone Texting Service, the child welfare reforms in Manitoba coming out later this month or any of the work we have accomplished through AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities). I am reminded of leaders like Cindy Blackstock who remind us institutional hope is possible.

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Yes, we must all work to show hope in our examples – that is our individual responsibility. But for those in positions of influence and power, we must do more. We must work collaboratively with those most affected and find solutions that can be implemented quickly. There is urgency in this message as every day that passes we lose more and more young lives. We all have a responsibility to change these systems today and every day – let’s get to work!

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