Harmony Williams initially expected about 100 people to turn up for the Sgwansang K’uuk Inter-Nation Youth Gathering to be held August 18 to 21at Tow Hill. Now, organizers are scrambling for last minute funding to feed the expected 500 participants, coming from 14 communities- Haida, Tsimshian, and Nisgaa-in northern BC.
The idea for the gathering came out of a suicide prevention forum held last May in Prince Rupert, where government officials sought input from First Nations youth on how to counter the devastating trend of suicides on reserves.
The overwhelming message from the 150 participants was that more tradition, more culture, and more sharing, are the best ways to deal with the issues affecting them.
The response to the Tow Hill gathering- created in direct response to this message -has been overwhelming, said Ms Williams.
“They (young aboriginal people) are so happy to hear, ‘yeah – we heard you, and we’re doing something’,” she said. The three-day camping trip will feature traditional games, hiking, sports “and hopefully lots of eating” during the day, said Ms Williams. At night, four themed bonfires are being set up; one for storytelling, one for singing, one for discussing the issues facing First Nations youth living on-reserve, and the fourth will be a ‘free fire’ for having fun and chatting, she said.
The idea is a totally revolutionary way of dealing with the tough issues faced by kids on-reserve.
“We’re not inviting kids to a conference, where we can educate them,” said Ms Williams, “they are living these issues. We can talk till we’re dead in the face about ‘issues’ – but this is something that we’re doing about it.”
The Old Massett youth group spent their entire travel budget back in July, said Ms Williams, traveling around to the communities to invite them to the gathering. They requested permission to enter Tsimshian and Nisgaa territory in the traditional way, and then gave them official Haida-style invitations to the islands.
“They loved that,” she said, “And they’re coming.”
And depending on what comes out of this gathering, it could be used as a model for others throughout the province, where the suicide rate is disturbingly high on reserves. In Ahousat on Vancouver Island, there were over sixty suicide attempts – and that was just in one month, said Ms Williams. The funding for the project came out of the First Nations Summit, she said. Ms. Williams said they are hoping that the way issues are dealt with here will become a platform for policy around the provice.
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