Friday, June 28, 2013

Survivors of Suicide and Prevention Gathering: Mixed Feelings


Circle of Life Gathering: Keep Them Alive has come and gone. We had a two day Gathering for all those affected by suicide and for those wanting to prevent suicide. The Gathering was our fourth event and our last. It was a struggle to get it done this year. The heart wasn't into it.
Seems like it works that way sometimes.

The person behind the Gathering passed away this Christmas. He was Tobasonakwut Peter Kinew. A very nice man and a very knowledgeable man. I liked him. It was Peter and my brother Donald that spoke about holding a Gathering to share about the experience of having lost someone to suicide. My cousin Sally and her Husband Ron Mcdonald were also very important in the Gathering. Sadly Ron and Sally had another loss this year and it was not meant to be for them to come to the last Gathering.

We managed to hold the event this year again at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Thunderbird House is great. They took hold and have been the strong supporters and helpers in hosting the event. Without them and all those volunteers the event could not have happened.

The Gathering is all about Sharing. It may not have met the needs of everyone. Still it was a good venue for support. We made sure to try and get people the opportunity to speak about their experiences. We also had kind and generous people that could offer some advice, some Teachings, some avenues and options of help.

There are many venues out there for people and professionals that want to learn about suicide and suicide prevention. Aboriginal Training & Consulting Services is one group that does training in the area. You can pay five hundred dollars to go and and learn about the risks and symptoms. I believe it is a good thing. We didn't offer that kind of knowledge. We are not equipped to do that. However, we did offer the one thing they say to learn, and that is to Listen. We did that. I think that was good. We did provide the chance to share. We also provided something that we know we have and that is empathy and compassion.

Empathy is:
|"the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this" Merriam-Webster.  


I get confused between the words empathy, sympathy and compassion. So I was lucky to find this to explain it.

"concord, understanding, rapport, affinity. Sympathy, compassion, pity, empathy all denote the tendency, practice, or capacity to share in the feelings of others, especially their distress, sorrow, or unfulfilled desires. Sympathy is the broadest of these terms, signifying a general kinship with another's feelings, no matter of what kind: in sympathy with her yearning for peace and freedom; to extend sympathy to the bereaved. Compassion implies a deep sympathy for the sorrows or troubles of another coupled to a powerful urge to alleviate the pain or distress or to remove its source: to show compassion for homeless refugees. Pity usually suggests a kindly, but sometimes condescending, sorrow aroused by the suffering or ill fortune of others, often leading to a show of mercy: tears of pity for war casualties; to have pity on a thief driven by hunger. Empathy most often refers to a vicarious participation in the emotions, ideas, or opinions of others, the ability to imagine oneself in the condition or predicament of another: empathy with those striving to improve their lives; to feel empathy with Hamlet as one watches the play." Dictionary.com

 The crowd at the Gathering was small, which made the Gathering seem intimate. People shared with a small amount of people. The Native Addictions Council of Manitoba (NACM) came with their residents and out patients. It if they did not come to the Gathering there would have been around 30 people. The good thing with a small turnout is that the food line is quick and there is plenty of food for people.  We ended up taking food over to the local shelter to feed the people there. 

 A group of youth came from the north to take part in the Gathering. Shamattawa First Nation.  Shamattawa is a remote Indian community in Manitoba. They are no strangers to the effects of suicide.  

SHAMATTAWA -- Life in the remote community of Shamattawa, Manitoba, is so bleak. In the first five months of this year, 37 kids and 10 adults attempted suicide, and 52 others told health care workers or family they plan to kill themselves. The youngest who tried to commit suicide was only nine years old.

In 2007, 74 kids from Shamattawa, in Manitoba, attempted suicide and another 82 said they were going to do it. That accounts for more than one in four of the 600 kids living in Shamattawa, 1,200 km northeast of Winnipeg.
In the first five months of this year, 37 kids and 10 adults attempted suicide, and 52 others told health care workers or family they plan to kill themselves.
In 2007 there were 1,172 people living in Shamattawa, according to the Kitayan Community The rash of suicide attempts comes six years after the province and Ottawa declared war on the problem when three people killed themselves in just a few days.


The people who ended up sharing were so sincere and had such strong messages.  A young woman shared here experience of suicide loss and her own struggles to stay alive. It was heart wrenching story of survival.

I am relieved that the Gathering is over. I am also grateful to many people. The Gathering was hosted by three strong smart people; Shannon Buck, Chickadee Richard and Mitch Bourbonnier. All living a life of Traditional Native Spirituality. They took the event and owned it. They made sure things went well. They guided the event for the guests and the speakers. They carried the Gathering and set the tone for kindness, self-reflection and healing. 

Other people that were great are of course: Allie Turnock of Compassionate Friends Winnipeg. Jessica Burton of Klinic Winnipeg.  Wab Kinew, famous news personality, Rapper, and Traditional Man. Ron Indian Mandamin of Shoal Lake. What a beautiful and kind man. My wife Suz, said "that is a very nice man". Suz is never wrong in her appraisals of people. She can spot the phoney and the hidden mean person, where as I cannot. Cheryl James of Roseau River First Nation is a very good person. She has a Drum group that goes to help when they are asked. She is such a positive woman. Cathy Merrick of Cross Lake always supported the Gathering. She made sure that we always had knowledgeable people come out and share or Teach at the Gathering. This year was not different. She sent two people from Cross Lake, Delores Spence and Cynthia Halcrow Robinson. They came at their own expense. A nine hour trip by car from way up northern Manitoba.

There was so much to be grateful for and to be happy for. The Gathering did seem to be a good venue for those that needed it. People shared, people cried, people made contacts with others, and people heard Teachings. So what would I have mixed feelings about?

I am happy that my family and friends came through. My sisters-in-laws, my wife, my daughter, my son, my brother, and a host of people gave of themselves. My wife again took time off from work, her co-workers did the same, just to cook and help out. I burden them with the Gathering. But they don't think of it that way. And that is what makes them good people.  Lot of good people out there. 

I am a selfish bugger. No denying that. I wanted more people to come. More of my colleagues, friends and family. That didn't happen. Each year I went over to the Native organizations in Winnipeg. I mailed, emailed letters and posters to countless communities, entities and people. I telephoned some reserves and spoke to their health workers, their suicide workers.  These organizations and agencies are in the news when a tragic event occurs. Move the cameras away and where are they? 

I guess they didn't have time to take part. I invited anyone to help organize, to give input. You know almost all Native organizations ignored me. Lot of Traditional people ignored me. I passed Tobacco to a few people. They accepted the Tobacco but didn't come. 

Why did I want people there? Because Suicide to me is personal! You fucking rights its personal. I want people to know that its god damn hell to be a survivor. To hear what people go through. Not just me but a whole bunch of people. So why don't people care? Why do they only go to an event where it is one that you have to pay to attend?

You know what?  The people who spoke were just so fucking great. If you didn't learn anything from them, than you are blind and deaf even though you can see and hear.

So I have mixed feelings. Because I know people missed out. They missed out something beautiful. I wish many more could have experienced the wisdom, the sincerity, the kindness, the hurt and the hope that these good people shared.  It wasn't about me personally at the Gathering. I don't use it to stand up and say look at me, I am pitiful. I stand off to the side. I stand with people. I am not good but I am not bad either. I just try to do something, anything that might help to ease pain.

You know what?- it is too bad. Too bad, we can't support each other more. People talk a good game. But in the end, as my cousin used to say, "they are phoney, and people don't like that shit". 

Bertha Fontaine

Cheryl Alexander

Shannon Buck - Wabunnong Noodin

Annette Dugas

April Kakapentum

Barb Nicole

Leslie Dugas

Trish- Suvivor

Cheryl James

Diane - Survivor




Joe Daniels - Traditional Teacher - Sagkeeng Councilor

Ron Mandamin - Don Courchene


Wab Kinew - Shamattawa Youth

Delores - Cynthia - Cross Lake Cree - Survivors


Singers -


Steve - Mitch - Chickadee

Wab Kinew - NACM

Jackie Traverse - Artist - Activist

Linda Stevenson - Good person

Wab - Chloe

Shamattawa youth group



Leslie Dugas


Making Tobacco Ties

Mediwiwin Teacher Ron Indian Mandamin - Shoal Lake



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