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Advisory Group: Co-Leads

Ed Connors

I am a psychologist registered in the Province of Ontario. I am of Mohawk and Irish ancestry and am a band member of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. I have worked with First Nations communities across Canada since 1982 in both urban and rural centres. My work over this time has included clinical director for an infant mental health Centre in the city of Regina and director for the Sacred Circle, a suicide prevention program developed to serve First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario. While developing this service, I worked with Elders and apprenticed in traditional First Nations approaches to healing. I have also been a member on the Family Caregivers Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada between 2008 and 2010. During this work I consulted with the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Advisory Committee on their cultural safety/relational practice/cultural competency project. Today my practice incorporates traditional knowledge about healing while also employing my training as a psychologist. I have also worked with the First Peoples Wellness Circle (formerly the Native Mental Health Association of Canada) since its development over 25 years ago. In addition I have served on the Board of the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention since it’s beginning. I am currently the chair of its First Peoples Advisory Committee.

When I worked with Elder Alec Skead 30 years ago to develop what he named as the Sacred Circle: Providing a Way of Life, I did not fully realize that he was setting me on a course of learning that continues to this day. Alec knew that we could only support people to choose life by assisting them to answer the essential life questions: Where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? In turn this helped them to know Mino Bimaadiziwin (Living the Good Life). This is what we today refer to as Life Promotion. This is why I have chosen to participate with the development of this online resource for communities. I believe this project continues to support our ongoing exploration of our Elders’ knowledge. The knowledge that I believe can help sustain our lives to the fullest today and into the future.

Jennifer White

I am an Associate Professor in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria and have been working in the field of youth suicide prevention for 30 years. I have always been interested in how we think and talk about youth suicide prevention – and the effects of these ways of thinking and talking on the people we are trying to support. Most of my work has been aimed at exploring alternatives to the standardized, expert-driven, one-size-fits-all, risk factor-based approach to youth suicide. The current project marks a turning point in how we think about what it means to ‘do suicide prevention’ and I am very excited about being part of these new conversations that are based on “leading with the language of life.”

In 2003, I co-authored, Aboriginal Youth: A Manual of Promising Suicide Prevention Strategies, which was one of my earliest attempts to think through what it might mean to practice suicide prevention in a way that took account of the history of colonization and its negative effects on Indigenous youth, families and communities. At that time, the language of ‘de-colonization’ was not known to me, but I was certainly becoming awakened to my own implication in Canada’s settler colonial history.

This project is based on the principle of ‘show, don’t tell.’ Each practice that is featured here serves to remind us what Indigenous peoples have known and practiced for thousands of years: intergenerational learning, land-based teachings, collective ethics, and cultural ceremonies provide the resources for living well. At the same time, without a broader ethical and political commitment to honour the treaties, settle land claims, and uphold Indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights to be self-determining, these wise practices for life promotion will remain limited. There can be no wellness without justice.

Advisory Group: Members

Normand D'Aragon

Normand has been working as a registered psychologist in Quebec since 1983. He has been involved as a practitioner and trainer in a number of First Nations and Inuit communities of Northern Quebec for the last 20 years. In 2001, he co-founded the First Nations and Inuit Suicide Prevention Association of Quebec and Labrador where he acted as director until 2012. He coordinated for 10 years the annual conference Dialogue for Life. Through the years, cultural practices and teachings from the Elders became the most important part of the learning and healing activities of those gatherings.

In his work as a psychologist with persons at risk or grieving after a loss to suicide, Normand has been referring to an integrative transgenerational analysis model taking into account the multigenerational family history in its social, cultural and political context. He has made a number of presentations about the use of this generational family approach applied to suicide in Canada and New Zealand. He is also, a board member of the First Peoples Wellness Circle (FPWC).

Through his commitment in life protection and promotion as a helper but also through his own healing journey, he hopes to honour all his relatives and in a special way, the memory and the legacy of the First Nations ancestors who are part of his genealogy. He is proud to be adopted in the Innu nation in Quebec and in the Maori nation of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Henry Harder

My name is Henry George Harder. I am an aboriginal male and an Indigenous scholar. I am past Chair of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia, and currently hold the Dr. Donald B. Rix BC Leadership Chair in Aboriginal Environmental Health. In addition to teaching and research, I am also a registered psychologist, and have been in the fields of mental health, rehabilitation and disability management for over 30 years.

I am a grandfather, father, husband, great uncle, uncle, cousin, brother and son. My mother was Russian Mennonite and my father’s lineage is not known to me. All my mother would say is that he was an Indian and from the Wolf Clan. Her best friend told me that my middle name is George because that was my father’s name. Two possibilities have arisen as to my father’s family. One possibility is Métis as my Uncle had a business in Rosthern, Saskatchewan near Batoche and my mother visited there. The other is in the other directions towards North Central BC likely the Gitxsan or Wet’suwet’en, mostly due to physical likeness and other characteristics and some family history. As I do not know my biological father’s name or any detail about him I will never be able to trace this lineage. This fills me with a profound sense of sadness and an unquenched desire to belong somewhere.

I grew up Mennonite, not aboriginal. I went to theological college and was a preacher for a while. I have spent the last 14 years trying to discover my aboriginal side, my indigeneity. It has not been an easy journey. I eventually went to UBC and ended up with a Doctoral degree in Psychology. During that time I experienced some prejudice as a few profs did not want to see a poor kid from the east side of Vancouver succeed. I also never go on well with quantitative research methodologies and didn’t thrive until I discovered qualitative research. These experiences have shaped who I am and how I approach all aspects of life including research.

I am Indigenous and an Indigenous researcher. I am moving beyond qualitative research and embracing Indigenous Research Methodologies. I categorically reject the notion that mainstream research methods are the only way of determining truth and acquiring knowledge. Many community members have told me and I have heard it in Indigenous communities around the world: “We have always done research. We just didn’t call it that.”

Carol Hopkins

Carol Hopkins is the Executive Director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation (a division of the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation) and is of the Lenape Nation at Moraviantown, ON.

Carol has spent 20 years in the field of First Nations addictions and mental health. She holds both a Masters of Social Work Degree from the University of Toronto and a degree in sacred Indigenous Knowledge, equivalent to a PhD in western-based education systems. Carol also holds a sessional faculty position in the school of social work at Kings University College at Western University.

Carol has co-chaired national initiatives known for best practice in national policy review and development, resulting in the: First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework (FNMWC), the Honouring Our Strengths: A Renewed Framework to Address Substance Use Issues Among First Nations in Canada, the Indigenous Wellness Framework, and best practice guidelines for culturally-based inhalant abuse treatment. Carol has also inspired the development of the Native Wellness Assessment. In recognition of this work, Carol received the Champions of Mental Health Award 2015 for Research/Clinician, the Health Canada Innovations Award, is a member of the leadership advisory council to the Ontario Minister of Health and Long Term Care and was invited by Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott, to join the Canadian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, Special Session on the World Drug Problem.

Shannon LaFlamme

I live on traditional Katzie territory in Pitt Meadows, BC, and proudly work for the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) as a Mental Health Programs Consultant. My portfolio includes the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NAYSPS), a funding stream initiated by the Government of Canada in 2004. The NAYSPS’ goal is reducing risk factors that contribute to suicide and promoting protective factors that prevent suicide in First Nations youth living on reserve between the ages of 10 and 30.

I graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in Psychology in 2006 and am currently working towards my master’s degree in Public Health through the University of London. I have been working for government public health departments since 2005, and within First Nations health departments since 2007.  I am passionate about the work I do with Community Health and Wellness Services (Mental Wellness team) at FNHA, stemming from my belief that mental wellness is the basis for overall health and wellness, both in terms of the individual and society as a whole. My personal connection to and experience with youth suicide drives my motivation to work towards a more hopeful future for today’s youth – where help is available and accessible for youth coping with emotional pain, trauma, and addiction, and where healing journeys are supported by the community at large without stigma or judgment.

Chris Mushquash

Dr. Christopher Mushquash is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Lakehead University and the Human Sciences Division of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. He is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health and Addiction and a clinical psychologist at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care. Dr. Mushquash’s research focuses on culturally appropriate mental health and addiction assessment and intervention, and ensuring that health interventions for First Nations people are both culturally- and contextually-appropriate. He does this through relationships and partnerships with First Nation communities and organizations. Clinically, he provides assessment, intervention, and consultation services for First Nations children, adolescents, and adults. His research has been funded by The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, NeuroDevNet, the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, Health Canada, the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, and the Ministry of Research Innovation. Dr. Mushquash is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) President’s New Researcher Award (CPA’s top honour for new researchers in Canada), Lakehead University Outstanding Alumni Award (awarded in recognition of early career achievement), the Northwestern Ontario Visionary Award (recognizes young professionals in the region for their leadership, community engagement, volunteerism, uniqueness and mentorship, and as those that are making a difference in their community), and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Science Early Researcher Award. He is a Member of the Royal Society of Canada‘s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Dr. Mushquash is Ojibway, and a member of Pays Plat First Nation.

W. J. (Bill) Mussell

W. J. (Bill) Mussell, Board Member: (a) First Peoples Wellness Circle (grew from Native Mental Health Association of Canada—President 20 years); (b) Mood Disorders Society of Canada; (c) Thunderbird Partnership Foundation (V.P). Bill also serves as co-lead of the First Person First Peoples Hub, CDRIN, based at the University of Saskatchewan.

While doing volunteer work as an executive member of the North American Indian Brotherhood (NAIB) and full time under-graduate studies at UBC. in 1959-60, I decided to pursue studies in social development, education and health. Our NAIB research work that brought us into many First Nations of the Interior Tribes of B.C. clearly revealed high need for restorative work to bring about improved physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual health and wellness. Such work called for serious study of conditions and situations contributing to the absence of wholistic wellness, and documentation of our history that would reveal the effects of the laws and policies governing our lives as Bands or communities of status Indians under the Government of Canada that did not perceive us as human beings. Studies like these revealed why the teachings of our ancestors, especially the spiritual dimensions of living life and related rituals and ceremony, including walking tall with pride and dignity, were no longer apparent.

Within the following decade, I earned credentials in social work, secondary teaching, and began studies in counselling psychology, and gained considerable work experience professionally and voluntarily. I served as treasurer and then president of the Vancouver Indian Friendship Centre board (1964-67) that focused attention on the challenges being faced by growing numbers of reserve-based First Nations people who were transitioning to Vancouver often with dreams of a better life, including pursuit of higher education. The Centre’s programming relied heavily upon time generously provided by volunteers familiar with such challenges. While funds for on-reserve services and programs were scarce, they were even more difficult to access in Vancouver. I also became familiar with work carried out by personnel of the corrections field by serving as a probation officer mainly on Vancouver Island and then as a federal parole officer based in Vancouver and then Abbotsford. Concurrent with the latter work, I taught a few introductory criminology courses and served as Chief of my First Nation before accepting work at Ottawa, addressing Indian Affairs matters from a national perspective. Witnessing the emergence and development of the NIB, the presentation of the Red Paper to the Prime Minister, and experiencingaspects of Indian/White relations in most parts of Canada were highlights of this segment of my life’s journey. I returned to Vancouver in 1971.

During the ensuing 30 years, my chosen work focused on Indigenous education, health and social development, including consideration of social justice, governance, healing, and significance of culture as a social determinant of well-being. These pursuits were enriched through engagement in a graduate studies program (adult and higher education), establishment of a post-secondary institute custom-designed to prepare and equip First Nation community-based practitioners to carry out health education, delivery of health and addictions services, and actively promote family and community wellness by building upon cultural strengths. The Salishan Institute offered these programs for close to 15 years at the Naramata Centre, and was contracted by many BC and Alberta First Nations to do capacity building education and training in their communities. Such work led to engagement in a variety of research projects, contracted reports and publications, evaluation studies (community health and family and child services), and keynote and related conference presentations. I proudly served as the Institute’s Manager and Principal Educator. Projects addressing violence and sexual abuse, depression and suicide, and health and wellness in our First Nations communities also received priority attention during this stage of my work life that brings me well into my senior years.

Current challenges continue to feature active engagement in mental wellness, addictions, epigenetics, need for wise practices to restore pride and confidence in being ‘people of the land’ moving forward with confidence, hope, meaning, community support, and purpose anchored in teachings of our Indigenous ancestors. Doing truth and reconciliation work best describes my on-going purpose in life that is satisfied through active engagement with the organizations identified at the outset of this profile.


Food for thought:
In our search for answers to questions of contemporary Indigenous life, we must remember that we know very little about life of our ancestors between 1850 and 1920,especially those aspects of life that enabled survival and thrival. For us, life is continuous, and being continuous, it is being shaped and reshaped as each generation does its best to embrace life.

Stephanie Wellman

Originally from the Prairies, I now reside on Algonquin territory where I work at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), within the health secretariat, as the portfolio holder for the mental wellness file. The mandate of the health secretariat is to protect, maintain, promote, support and advocate for First Nations inherent, Treaty, and international legal rights towards ensuring the (w)holistic health and the well-being of First Nations. The AFN is a national advocacy organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada, which includes more than 900,000 people living in 634 First Nation communities and in cities and towns across the country.

Projects like this one are important as we change the narrative within mental health and mental wellness from ‘suicide prevention’ to ‘life promotion’ and lead with the language of life and well-being, focusing on our inherently held strengths as Indigenous people.

Ryan Pielle

I come from the Tla’amin Nation at the Northern tip of Coast Salish territory. I grew up lucky enough to be immersed in culture and language from a young age and still carry these teachings close to my heart, even though I am away from home. I am currently living in Victoria and working at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) as the Youth Cultural Coordinator and Youth Support Worker. I have been in these positions for about two years now after beginning as a practicum student from the Indigenous Family Support program at Camosun College. These job positions give me the privilege of working with Indigenous youth in both a group and one-on-one setting. I have also recently been appointed to the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centre’s (BCAAFC’s) Provincial Aboriginal Youth Council (PAYC). Through my seat on PAYC, I have joined the United Aboriginal Youth Collective (UAYC) which works with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) to bridge the gap between Indigenous youth and the government. My goal is to use influences and experiences gained through personal and professional development to help change the way the Western world views Indigenous people and, in turn, help the healing journey needed by both parties. I believe I bring a well-rounded view to the table on the experiences of many Indigenous youth but I am also aware that I do not speak for everyone and still have much to learn.

Research & Design

Janet Newbury

Adjunct Professor, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria

I live on Tla’amin territory, north of Powell River BC, and work (primarily) at the University of Victoria. All of my community work, teaching, and research relates to well-being for children, youth, families, and communities – with an increasing focus on what creates the conditions for well-being in collective terms. I have been exploring the connections between community-based approaches to economic and social development and well-being of children, youth, and families. To me, this places the responsibility for change on all of us, as a society, rather than on individuals who may be struggling for a range of reasons.

With all of this in mind, being part of this project is incredible. It deliberately resists the allure of what might look good on paper, and remains steadfastly committed to the heart of this work: real people in real communities. The integrity of the process at every step of the way ensures the right kinds of evidence are being used, which has led to something very unique. Wise Practices for Life Promotion centres Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being – even in a world where bureaucratic processes continue to be privileged. In doing so, it has made connections among and shone light on a wide range of existing initiatives, stories, voices, research, and knowledge that indicate how we might all move forward in this work in a good way – together.

Chris Heffley

Creative Lead, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation

I’m a 3rd generation settler of Scottish and German descent, I grew up in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). I’m grateful to be a guest on the territory of the Tla’amin First Nation on the Sunshine Coast of BC with my partner where I enjoy gardening, photography, art, music and cooking for friends and family.

As Thunderbird’s creative lead, I’m responsible for ensuring that the organization is represented with a consistent visual language and tone, true to our values. I spent more than 25 years working in numerous design areas after graduating in visual communications in 1996. Most recently I’ve worked as a full-time freelancer focusing on values-based work with clients in community development, education and activism, arts and culture, health and wellness, and environmental technology and sustainability. The thread that connects all of the above are values and ethics rooted in a long term vision of healthy individuals, community and an environment that will sustain generations to come.

I’m honoured to be a part of this project and contribute my skills in a small way, featuring the great work of so many people and organizations committed to positive change in the world.

Jordan Davis

Full Stack Developer, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation

I reside on Vancouver Island, on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen (Lekwungen) peoples, also known as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, in the community of Langford. I’m a father of three daughters. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation for the last five years. Before that, I built a small e-commerce business and worked as a freelance designer, developer and photographer.

I feel tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to do meaningful work and to be able to learn so much, both from the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and also with the Wise Practices group. I’ve learned that hope, belonging, meaning and purpose are central to a healthy person. I appreciate the opportunity to assist in the promotion of the strength and wisdom of Indigenous peoples in whatever way I am able.