Reprinted from "Aboriginal People" issue of Visions Journal, 2008, 5 (1), p. 28
Four nations in northern BC—the Wet’suwet’en, Gitxsan, Tsimshian and Nisga’a—have come together to form an unprecedented partnership. Their goal is to reduce the high number of suicide ideations, attempts and completions. It is with great hope and excitement that this partnership announced its recently created First Nations Action and Support Team (FAST) program.
FAST’s mandate is: “Embracing life through suicide awareness and community empowerment.” The program will develop and train a team of service providers made up of members from each of the four nations.
This new program is not meant to replace or compete with existing resources, programs or initiatives. Instead, its goal is to complement these services. The idea is to facilitate a coordinated effort. Team members will educate and empower communities to act when an individual or a community as whole is in crisis.
FAST is similar to the groundbreaking approach of the Aboriginal Suicide Critical Incidence Response Team (ASCIRT) program on Vancouver Island. ASCIRT is a program of the Inter Tribal Health Authority. It is through their trials and errors that FAST was able build as quickly as it did.
“The strength of your heart comes from the soundness of your faith”
So says a Saudi Arabian proverb. But what happens to a people when an entire generation is forbidden to practise what was a way of life of their people for tens of thousands of years?
Strength of the heart weakens, and soundness of faith withers.
The heart is not only an organ that beats inside your body. It is also the spirit within. It is your mind, your intellect, your psyche. It is also your compassion, kindness and affection. It is what guides your life.
Faith represents confidence, trust, belief and dedication. It is what allows you to be proud of who you are and where you come from.
During the residential school era, the heart and faith of hundreds of First Nation children was taken and stomped on. Due to their resilience, those children, who are now grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers and mothers, are still here. But they were sent back to their communities with severely weakened hearts and severely fractured faith. Several generations of First Nation people have seen and felt the ripple effect of the residential school era.
Suicide is on the rise in the majority of our First Nation communities.1 Although there are many other contributing factors, the traumatic and devastating events that took place in residential schools were, and still are, the root problem of most of the health issues in our communities today.
Members of FAST
Of our people, by our people, for our people
FAST is a work in progress. An effective process to ensure services are provided as efficiently as possible is still being developed. We want FAST to work not only for the present First Nation partners, but also for other First Nations communities, who can adopt or incorporate our program as a tool for their communities.
The First Nations Action and Support Team members are diverse in terms of age, educational background, work experience, First Nation cultural background, gender, professions and individual life experiences. FAST has gathered addictions and/or mental health counsellors, a licensed practical nurse, a provider with a Bachelor of Psychology, a fire chief, administrative workers and youth workers to name a few.
In October and November 2007, the team members went through two intense, five-day training sessions. A much-anticipated celebration to introduce and uplift the FAST members was held on January 19, 2008. The team members were gifted with strength, encouragement and support. There was representation from the four nations, as well as the following invited guests:
Okanagan Nation Youth Response Team
Aboriginal Suicide Critical Incident Response Team
First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB)
Chiefs Health Committee
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Northern Health Authority
Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD)
A local MLA
The FAST members are trained to become trainers and will continue to receive newer and better training—FAST is committed to lifelong learning. The team members also learn a great deal from each other, making this already strong team even stronger. They will soon be ready to start giving back to their communities. And, because the FAST members know their communities, they know who you are, where you come from, your pain and your culture. Who better than your own people to help you in your time of need?
About the author
Sandra is the Director for the First Nations Action and Support Team (FAST). FAST was created to provide suicide prevention and intervention services to northern BC nations, including the Wet’suwet’en, Gitxsan, Tsimshian and Nisga’a
Government of Canada. (2006). Aboriginal mental health and well-being. In The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada (Chapter 12). Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/human-humain06/index-eng.php.