Stz’uminus First Nation put the issue of mental health at the forefront during National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremonies on Thursday at Transfer Beach as community leaders encouraged the hundreds of youth in attendance to embrace a passion for life.
The ‘I Live For’ campaign is in response to several incidents on the reserve and aims to start a larger conversation that can carry on indefinitely about suicide, depression, anxiety and mental wellness, in general.
Many local leaders at the celebration wore lime green shirts with words such as ‘respect’, ‘kindness’ and ‘Nuts’amaat Shqwaluwun’ (in mind, body and spirit) written in white letters and formed into the shape of a heart.
There was also a blank space on the garment where that person could fill in what they ‘live for.’
“It’s your decision what you live for today,” Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott told the packed amphitheatre. “For me, on my shirt, it says ‘I Live For…Life (and Jennifer) because sometimes we don’t realize how fortunate we really are and what we have around us and who we have.”
Elliott said the campaign will hopefully continue to grow and encouraged youth to approach educators and health staff in the community.
“There’s so many people here that have an opportunity to share with you what they do to support you and give you the opportunities to move forward,” he said.
“Our lives are so busy right now, and so fast, that sometimes we forget about the important things. Sometimes we need to slow down and think about what is so important to us and it’s life and being here and the opportunity of sharing everything that we have.”
Mayor Aaron Stone, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety, wrote on his shirt that he lives for ‘a better future.’ Others made mention of children or grandchildren on their shirts.
“We know that you that youth mental health is a growing concern for everyone and too many times I think that people don’t feel like they have the opportunity to reach out,” he said.
“If you’re having struggles, if you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, these are things you can talk about with your friends, with your family and with your elders in your community and take that opportunity to open yourself up.”
The celebrations at Transfer Beach were MC’d by elder Ray Harris and included special performances by Buffy David and Stz’uminus students.
Students from Stz’uminus, North Oyster and Ladysmith also held nothing back on the dance floor as they were treated to a full concert by Vancouver twin sisters Dani and Lizzy whose song Dancing in the Sky went viral several years back when it was posted to YouTube.
Everyone was then treated to a BBQ by Stz’uminus Chief and Council with vendor tables, face painting, cedar weaving and bouncy castles rounding out the activities into the afternoon.