Group works towards healthier community

Peninsula First Nations come together to engage youth through sports

Gathering Strength organizers (from left) Bonnie Joe

A core group of five members from three of the First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula is working to make their communities a healthier place.

William Morris (Tsartlip), Wayneo Sam (Tsawout and Tsartlip), Max Henry Jr. (Paquachin), Bonnie Joe and Becky Wilson (Tsawout) began talks on starting a group to support members of their community dealing with loss and suicide.

“We lost numerous members to suicides and each of us has experienced loss in our family or community in one way or another,” explained Morris.

“With the grief and loss we all went through we decided we as a community really needed a positive outlet.”

In the spring of this year, after deciding on a name and logo which was designed by Perry Lafortune, the group now known as Gathering Strength was formed.

“Our first event was a big community dinner event we held in May at Tsawout,” Morris said, adding that the event served to bring the community together to heal.

“It’s going to be an annual event,” he said.

The Gathering Strength group has since offered the community events like sports camps and police camps and members of the group have taken workshops to better equip themselves with the skills needed to deal with people in crisis.

“We all took the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and each of us had to use those skills already,” said Morris, adding the group also participated in the 2012 Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention convention in Niagra Falls last month.

Their presence at the convention garnered them an opportunity to present what they’ve been working on within their community at Brock University in St. Catharines as well as in Nanaimo and at the University of British Columbia in the future.

The group is now looking forward to a slew of sports camps they are hosting this fall which were made possible through a grant from the British Columbia Sport Participation Program.

The camps being offered include basketball, boxing and swim camps and Morris said they hope by engaging youth that they will be able to keep them more positive.

“We chose sports camps because they appeal to a wide group of participants,” explained Bonnie Joe, the recreation manager at Tsawout.

“By keeping our children busy we’re keeping them away from those negative and dark thoughts and hopefully giving them the tools to help others with similar issues. If we start with healing the youth they will be able to show others there are services out there to help them in their struggles. It comes down to the fact that it’s never too late to start the healing journey.”

The sports camps will also serve to offer children from First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula opportunities to compete in sports at higher levels as well as work on achieving goals like becoming lifeguards.

Morris stressed that group’s approach to preventing suicides and building happier, stronger and healthier communities on the Saanich Peninsula and beyond is not a singular approach.

“What we’re doing is not about addressing one issue. It’s not a one-and-done approach. We’re looking at the long term and how we’re going to establish and create something that will keep our people healthy.”

The group is selling bracelets for $5 to benefit their cause at Sassy’s Restaurant and the Barber Shop in Brentwood Bay and at BJ’s Bakery in Keating.

The bracelets say ‘strength’ on one side and ‘QOM, QEM, SET’ on the other which means to gather strength.

The sports camps run through November and are open to all WSANEC nations.

For more information on what’s being offered this fall or any other upcoming events email Becky Wilson at or call 250-652-9101.


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