Almost everyone who spoke out during the conclusion of the Heliset Hale Marathon on Friday, June 21, had experienced suicide within their family and hope for a new beginning of openness on the issue in their communities.
It was a strong message echoed by many people who came to the LAU,WELNEW Tribal School at the Tsartlip First Nation, as Kelly Paul, Bernice Smith, John Sampson and their support team ended the 535-kilometer marathon from Port Hardy to the Saanich Peninsula.
Hundreds of people met the trio and their team at the Peninsula Co-op on West Saanich Road, joining them for the last leg of their journey. Hundreds more greeted them at the tribal school, where they ran a victory lap before falling into each others’ arms in a long embrace.
While they were happy they had completed the marathon, the runners said they heard stories and hope from people along the way — people who have been touched by suicide in their families or their communities.
“All the stories, all the teachings that were given to us along the way, that only make me stronger and made all of us stronger,” said Paul, who organized the run. “This wasn’t just our journey, this was all of our journey. Every time I ran, I was praying for somebody. Running for somebody. Praying for life.”
Paul’s brother, Isaac, ended his life at age 17, an event that has shaped much of her life since. The Tsartlip First Nation member wanted to do something to raise awareness of the issue in aboriginal communities on Vancouver Island and elsewhere.
“It’s a chance to celebrate together,” she said in her address to the crowd. We can’t change yesterday, and we don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, but (we have) the a chance to celebrate each other today.”
Paul said she is thankful to have had her parents who loved her, spent time with her and supported her after the suicide of her brother.
Bernice Smith who, along with John Sampson, ran alongside Paul said she is grateful to have been invited to take part in this amazing journey.
“It’s a beautiful day to celebrate life, love, feelings, friendship, family, traditions, culture,” she said. “I look at all these children here, we are so blessed and so rich. We have elders here … we’re so alive and we celebrate that life.”
Sampson said it was an emotional, healing time on the road.
“We got the word out there, suicide, that has been pushed under the carpet for so long.”
He said people spoke up, elders and children, coming up to them in stores and along the highway, expressing themselves.
“The mothers, the grandpartents and the chuldren … this is just the start, this run. The beginning is just to get our message out. It doesn’t stop here.”
Tsartlip Chief Wayne Morris, who lost his own son two years ago to suicide, said he is still full of questions as to why. He said both sorrow over loss and a solution to the problem is shared among the people of his community.
“Kids have a future and the communtiy has to help them reach that future,” he said. “We have to let the children know there is hope and life is not all bad.”