Creating Hope

This story features the coming together of three separate activities that, in the end, turned out to form a powerful whole, with each component mutually reinforcing one another in a unique and meaningful way:
First, there was an Assembly of First Nations Youth Summit, taking place on July 10, 2016. Second, there was ‘the Walk of Hope’, which involved a number of First Nations youth walking from Cochrane to Niagara Falls, ON in order to deliver their important life promotion message in person at the Youth Summit. And third, there were 1000 ‘Messages of Hope’ hand delivered by a group of Counselling Psychology students from Virginia at the Youth Summit, as an act of solidarity and reconciliation. Taken together, these three initiatives create a powerful life promotion story that showcases the power of coordinated collective action for social change and conveys the message that hope is something we can do together.
As stated by Ed Connors, “We look to reconciliation or the formation of a new relationship of respect and equality between Indigenous populations and the newcomers to this land. It is this new relationship that we believe will generate the hope and wellness that most of our communities need.”

”On many levels, these stories come together to demonstrate how the voices and actions of our youth can combine to effect real change.”

Ed Connors

Calls to Action

Ed Connors sets the stage with part one of ‘creating hope’: He tells us about the Assembly of First Nations Youth Council’s calls to action about suicide prevention and life promotion.

Letters of Hope

Ed Connors continues by introducing part two of this story: The collection of 1000 letters of hope to First Nations youth in Canada from a group of non-Indigenous students in the United States.

The Walk of Hope

Ed Connors shares part three: The Walk of Hope, by which a group of First Nations youth walked from from Northern Ontario to Niagara Falls to raise awareness and provoke action to prevent youth suicide.

Creating Hope

And finally, Ed Connors weaves together these three stories: He helps us recognize that we are all part of each other’s stories, and can become stronger with this awareness.

Practice in Detail

This story serves as a valuable reminder that life promotion work is a collective responsibility and action. While our roles may all be different, and we do well to follow the lead of young people who are calling for change, there is indeed a role for all of us when it comes to promoting life for young people in First Nations communities. Working together, rather than in isolation, we can contribute to promoting life and fostering hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose.

This particular story begins with the strong voices of First Nations young people with the ‘Walk of Hope.’ As noted in a press release, “the Youth Walk of Hope was held to highlight the Mushkegowuk Council’s Peoples’ Inquiry into suicide and to support the … national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls. Walkers travelled approximately 950 kilometres to raise awareness of the need for healing and reconciliation as outlined in the Calls to Action in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation and the recommendations from the inquest into the death of seven NAN youth in Thunder Bay. The walk began on June 7 in Cochrane, Ontario as youth from several NAN First Nations united for a 35-day trek to Niagara Falls.” They joined Chiefs from across Canada to deliver messages of hope for healthy communities and healthier lives.

This was a major undertaking, and the whole journey was supported from start to finish by social media campaigns, the express support of Chiefs, and community members.  The impact of the Youth Walk of Hope was enhanced by the positive receptivity and attentiveness on the part of policy-makers upon their arrival. The youth deliberately ended the Walk of Hope in Niagara Falls to ensure they could capture the attention of those who make decisions that affect their lives. By appearing at the both the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Youth Summit and the AFN Chiefs’ Meeting that took place in Niagara Falls that July, they strategically ensured their message was heard – and they were respectfully provided that platform. This is a reminder that community-based life promotion work is strengthened when it is supported by government leaders and prioritized in public policy and governance discussions.

The third dimension of this story highlights the significant role of reconciliation and decolonization in life promotion work. The relationship between colonial violence and youth suicide is well known. Thus, the active participation of non-Indigenous peoples in efforts to de-colonize, combat racism, and stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples is an integral aspect of life promotion work.  Remarkably, the group of young people who showed up in this case were not Canadian, but students from Virginia. They educated themselves, with support from First Nations leader Dr. Ed Connors, as a most important starting place. They then raised awareness among others and collectively wrote over 1000 messages of hope to let the Walkers know they are being heard and making a difference. Finally, they physically travelled to Niagara Falls to present these letters in person at the AFN Youth Summit, demonstrating the power of witnessing and solidarity in action.

Taken together, this three-pronged story demonstrates one of the many ways emergent opportunities arise for meaningful collective action. Attending to what is already going on and respectfully finding our place in relation to it, can be a potent way of harnessing community strengths, and promoting life through collective action.