Kihew Asiniy Education Centre in Saddle Lake addressed one of the most difficult issues that an community can face, that of teen suicide, at the school’s third annual Day of Hope last week.
“Hope is one of the greatest gifts from the Creator,” said Florence Quinn, principal of Kihew Asiniy, in the welcoming address. She explained that the buffalo is a symbol of hope for First Nations people. “There is a saying … that education is our buffalo, so education is our hope.”
The Nov. 17 Day of Hope included presentations from family members, who’d lost loved ones to suicide, and community building activities. For instance, one such activity was a people bingo, in which the students were each given a bingo sheet with descriptions of people in each square, such as “Won a volunteer of the year award in St. Paul.” Students then had to ask adults to identify each of the people. The purpose of the activity was to facilitate dialogue between students and adults.
Gloria McGilvery, principal of Onchaminahos School, called upon the children present to “have big dreams” and to reach out to others for support in times of need.
“We are a proud nation, we have a strong community with strong leaders and elders who speak our language and can reach out in traditional ways,” said McGilvery.
She then presented Frances Steinhauer-Ward, who worked with the RCMP for 18 years, with an award in appreciation of her participation in Hope Day.
“I care really about our community. I really care about our young people,” Ward said in her acceptance speech. “We have a lot of pain in our community but then the next day, we have a lot of hope beyond that pain.”
She explained to the students present that there is always someone, a parent or a teacher, available to hear their stories and that the way to heal is to share their stories.
“The people here today will give us their heart by giving us their stories,” said Ward, just before presentations by Sharon Cardinal, whose child committed suicide, and Karla John-Cardinal, who also lost a family member to suicide.
Sharon Cardinal told the story of how her “tall, slim, beautiful daughter … (with) a bubbly personality,” died on New Year’s Day, Jan 1, 2009. Cardinal described the emotional impact of that day’s events and how the incident devastated her. She said she was only able to continue on with her life because of her other children and because she reached out for help from all sources available. She accessed healing circles at the Eagle Healing Lodge, prayers at her church, and professional psychological services in St. Paul. She told the audience that she reached out and accepted help wherever it was available.
She then advised the students that when they also struggle with challenges, to reach out for help.
“I am here in your community. I want to help and I will never turn away. Reach out to me,” she said.