Thursday, June 10, 2010

Suicide Survivors Gathering Recap

Narrative on the Aboriginal Gathering of Suicide Survivors, Winnipeg, Mb April 21 & 22, 2010
The Gathering for Survivors of Suicide has come and gone. So what can we say that we learned and what have we accomplished?

For those of you that do not know, a two-day Gathering was held in Winnipeg for People that had lost family by way of taking their own life. The Gathering was a collective action that came out of need. A group of people got together to plan and organize the Gathering. They went out and sought help from the Aboriginal and larger community. There are a lot of reasons for holding an event such as the Gathering for Survivors. All the reasons lead up to the opportunity for some small hope at healing, perhaps peace. Survivors needed to have a safe place to talk, a place to share their pain and look for ways to ease that burden. We had some very high hopes of a Gathering. We envisioned some great messages, some Healing, some answers to our questions. It was to be a Gathering to that we could come away with feeling empowered; Empowered with our grief and the ability to continue living productively.

Let’s begin by what we hoped would happen during the Gathering. We had hoped for a number of things to transpire. We wanted a place for those that have not the opportunity to express their feelings about their loved taking their life. We wanted people to know who these loved ones are. We wanted to introduce them to the Gathering.

The second thing we wanted was to introduce Ceremony into the Gathering; from the prayer of the opening event to holding specific Ceremonies for the Grieving and the Gone. Third we wanted to introduce the Gathering to main stream support groups; who they are and how they function. Lastly we wanted someone to take on the Challenge of starting a group for Survivors, an Aboriginal group. We had hoped they would take on the task of organizing and hosting another event next year.

The Gathering had an ambitious agenda; with the amount of Speakers and topics scheduled into the two days. The Gathering was well attended with both Survivors and supporters. The first day we had the opportunity to introduce our Loved Ones that have gone on. We also broke into smaller groups for people to share their Loved Ones stories and their experiences. Elder Tabasonakwut Smoked Pipe for the Loved Ones and shared Teachings with the people.

The Wiping Away The Tears Ceremony was conducted with a number of Survivors taking part in the ritual. Elder Tobasonakwut gave the Ceremony to people in attendance. The Ceremony had the Spiritual and a symbolic component for the participants. The Ceremony is not for the end of grieving but for accepting other elements into your life along with the grief. The opportunity to pick up the Pipe, to attend the Pow-wow, to join in celebrations, not to forget or deny your Loved One and your grief but the chance to take on new elements in your life.

The Gathering had a number of compassionate, sincere, committed, wise, intelligent and knowledgeable speakers. It was a great mix of people sharing their views, insight from different vantage points. All the Speakers have a link to the issue of Suicide. Each message was heartfelt, fitting and inspiring. We cannot thank the people enough for their kind words.

We introduced the Feast and Giveaway Ceremony to the People. The Feast and Giveaway would not have been possible without the generous support from you people. The Feast is a Ceremony that each member can continue for their families and Loved Ones. The Giveaway has always been an important part of Aboriginal Tradition. We were happy that such good thoughts and prayers were received for our families from the People with the Giveaway. Our Loved Ones had Feast with us and Gifts were given in their honour. Spirit Dishes were made for our Loved Ones. Our prayers were offered in Tobacco and made into a Tobacco Tie. The Tie is being carried by Ron P. McDonald. Ron will be taking the Tie to a Sundance held this summer. It will be attached to the Tree of Life.

What did we learn from the Gathering and did we accomplish anything? We were pleased with the Gathering. We had some good feelings, some healing words, and the opportunity to speak and listen about our Loved Ones. We did learn that we could always have more time to share. We could have had more time spent on introducing our Loved Ones and we could have had more time to spend on the Sharing Circles. Those two areas we know we could have spent more time and provide more opportunity for Survivors. We might have allocated more time for sharing and cut down on some of the topics that were covered in the Gathering.

One of the things that we know from our experiences attending Ceremonies is that time tables are suggestions. Prayer and Ceremony protocol is something that we cannot rush. We were very fortunate that the invited Speakers were very gracious and aware of Ceremony protocol. The introduction of Ceremony to the Grieving process (specifically Anishinabe Teachings) guided the Gathering. The Ceremony component of the Gathering made the event special. It became more than a Gathering, a conference or a meeting. It became the Healing aspect of the Gathering. We were very fortunate that a strong showing of Traditional Healers, Teachers, and Helpers attended the Gathering. It is one thing that we were pleased with that although we had an agenda and used it as a guide, the event was organic in nature and the flow of sharing was smooth.

The participation by the established volunteer groups, and institutions was of great benefit to the Gathering. We witnessed how individuals can make a difference in the community. How individuals sharing common experiences can help each other like the: Compassionate Friends, Suicide Prevention Education Awareness Knowledge/Speak, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Turtle Lodge, Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, Big Bear Gathering, Thunderbird House. The presentations from volunteer groups were well received and needed. These people have shown us that we can take these concepts and use them in the community or come to them for support.

With the Closing of the Gathering we did not have the opportunity to do a Recap of the two days. Although we did try to provide timely recaps of the events through the day, we never did go over our goals for the Gathering. We did not have anyone take up the Gathering for next year. We also could have discussed the question “where to from here?” We failed in that respect to have a meaningful discussion on how we can continue with a Circle of care for Survivors. We had hoped that people would leave with tools to continue in their individual healing journey. We know our Teachers shared tools with the Survivors and supporters that can be used at the community level. We had hoped it would be articulated by people that they would continue in their own way, at their own community or continue to link with the people at the Gathering. That is the regret we now share, that we could have had a tighter closing of the Gathering.

Regardless of our shortfalls, we believe that the Gathering has been meaningful. We learned some things about the Topic of Survivors and Suicide. It is not a topic that people want to speak about. We know that there are those that chose to ignore the subject, either as a way to deal with it or not deal with it. We know that there are people that want to support such events and there are those will ignore efforts to work together. We know that many people can provide moral support. We also know that we cannot put on an event such as this one without the support of kind and generous people. We also know that you have to be willing to be ignored when the subject matter is hard to deal with. We also know that there is a difference between walking and talking. We also know that many many people are hurting. We also know that many many people are willing to listen, to assist, to carry and to walk beside us. We know for sure that more support is needed at the community. We also know that there are people out there that share your pain. There are people out there that will help, listen and that will walk with you.

The Event could not have taken place without the support of so many people and we send our heartfelt thanks to all those involved.

A partial list of those to Thank include: Peter Kinew, Kathy Kinew, Wab Kinew, Chick-a-dee, Marcel Guibouce, Sally & Ron P. McDonald, Susan Courchene, Donald Courchene, Annette Dugas, Bob Dugas, Leslie Dugas, Lauren Dugas, Judge Murray Sinclair, Dave Courchene Jr., Janice Greene, Freeman Simard, Chrissy Guathier, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, West Regions Child Family, Eugene Blackbird, Sagkeeng First Nation, Donavon Fontaine, New Directions, Chris Cassels, Troy Fontaine, Pine Pharmacy-Keith Clark, Daves Furniture of Powerview, Kit Perrick, Manitoba Hydro, FNIHB Health Promotions, Jenifer Wood, Arlene Patzer, Bernice Fontaine, Hedie L. Epp, Mike Peirre, Kelly James, Jessica Burton, Betty Laschuk, Marcheta Tanner, Sheryl St. Germaine, Provincial Health Minister Theresa Oswald. Albert McLeod, Lisa Hill, Chris Beach, Shirley Weenusk, Renata Meconse, Monique Lambert, Mary Werba, Germaine Cameron, Ernest Daniels Sr., Ernest Daniels Jr., Roger Greene, April & Naomi Kakepetum, Jean Courchene, Prisilla and Billie at Mb PHA Caucus, Percy Tuesday and his wife, Big Bear Gathering, Gerald Farthing., Indian Metis Friendship Centre, Alvin & Brenda Morrisseau, Earl Morrisseau, Shirley Simard, Steve Courchene, Chloe Courchene, Jess Courchene, Ed Thompson. There are a lot of people that took part, with words of encouragement, donations, taking part and attending the Gathering. We know we have missed acknowledging you here but remember we do appreciate your involvement.

We sincerely apologize for not being able to thank everyone that took part and helped out. We know there were a lot of you that supported us.

We know someone will grab the Gathering and hold it next year. Please let us know when you decide to take on the event, where you will host it and when it will be held.

Meegwetch, G’waabaamin Minaawaa.


  1. Steve,

    thanks for sharing, read all of your posting/stories. saddens me.


  2. Thank you Suzanne, We hope to host another event in April 2011.