Suicide awareness relay lifts spirits on Island First Nations communities

Heliset Hale Relay ends at Pauquachin Nation Sunday; urges First Nations communities to tackle suicide head-on

Runners Leon La Fortune

Suicide’s impact on First Nations communities on Vancouver Island and even around the country, was laid bare for witnesses to the conclusion of the Heliset Hale Relay on Pauquachin First Nation territory Sunday.

Few of the speakers who addressed a crowd of residents and guests did not have a family member or know someone in their community who has taken their own life. From elders within the WSANEC territory to young and middle aged people, they stood before the crowd and courageously told their stories.

It was a familiar theme to the runners of the relay, who started in Port Hardy on Sept. 17 and completed their 560 kilometer journey Sept. 25 in North Saanich.

People’s experience with suicide and their ability to overcome its stigma and emotional impact, is also the reason the Heliset Hale Relay was first started by Tsartlip First Nation member Kelly Paul in 2013.

Translated, Heliset Hale means “awaken life within” and Paul started the relay three years ago, partly in memory of her brother Issac, who took his own life when he was 17.

The relay, she said, and the support they received along the way in the many First Nations communities they visited, is an attempt to bring about change.

“It’s hope is to lift people up, to strengthen them,” Paul said Sunday. “People have to know that they are strong and we need to bring people together so (those in trouble)  are not alone.”

During the relay, Paul said they heard many stories from people about their experience with suicide. A solution, she said, must come from within First Nations communities and needs to start with each individual.

“We are blessed to be spiritual people,” she said, “and we can be leaders here.”

Paul said the battles faced by people in stress or emotional turmoil can put them in positions where they feel like giving up.

“You need to know that you are loved more than you know. All of this community is here for you.”

Jim Charlie, from Tsartlip, joined the relay in Chemainus and spent three days running with Paul and her team. He said he ran in memory of his brother and sister.

“It was a powerful experience,” he said not long after being welcomed and hugged by members of the community at the relay’s end. “There were a lot of tears of joy.”

Charlie said his own father attended residential school and its legacy was one of bad memories and emotional impacts. He has found his way through those challenges, he said, and realized there is healing power within the community.

Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, was at Pauquachin from Kamloops on Sunday and said the relay was a run for purpose.

“They ran with their spirits in their hand and with heavy hearts,” he said. “I know the struggles our people face on a daily basis … suicide had taken its toll, on families, a community and it takes a lot of support to work through it.”

He added while the word ‘reconciliation’ is very much on the minds of many people across the country, First Nations people “still have to look at reconciliation with ourselves.”

MLA Gary Holman said governments aren’t doing their best to help First Nations. MP Elizabeth May added the country is on a path of healing, but it won’t come without tears, pain and a new definition of how two nations can co-exist.

Paul said she hopes the Heliset Hale Relay on Vancouver Island can be run each year and attract additional runners. In 2013, there were three — Paul, Bernice Smith and John Sampson Jr.

This time around, she said there were eight — and like the message of the relay itself, Paul said many people contributing their hard work, lightens the load.

“Lighten the load around you,” she said.

Just Posted

Midway will open early at the 2019 Saanich Fair

This year the fair will pilot a “sneak peek” and the main stage will feature April Wine

Cross-examination begins for Oak Bay dad accused of killing daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Camosun mechanical engineering project solve real-world problems

Showcase included projects that confound conventional wisdom, garner industry interest

Arenas, fitness centre ready for action after significant flood at Saanich recreation centre

Library branch, archives remain closed after Thursday night flood

Speculation tax forces sale of Oak Bay’s ‘Tulip House’

Bob and Jan Fleming selling their retirement home famous for its thousands of tulips

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

POLL: Should there be a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers?

We’ve all heard them, and most likely cursed them under our breath.… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Aug. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Most Read