Ice Road Tour: Supporting youth in Northern Manitoba

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It’s a crisis that’s hidden in plain sight, but one that’s decimating youth in many remote communities in Northern Canada.

Mental health access in these areas is severely lacking, but through our six-week Ice Road Tour, LiveDifferent is able to bring hope, healing and purpose to the Indigenous youth living in these isolated communities through our Circles in-school program.

What’s an Ice Road?

Ice roads are built throughout Canada’s far north every winter to connect remote communities.

Depending on the weather, these temporary “ice highways” are typically accessible for 6 to 8 weeks each year. They are vital for the transport of essential supplies such as fuel, building materials and food staples that remote communities need for the entire year.

During the rest of the year, these communities are cut off by water and wilderness and are reachable only by barge or plane, which means these ice roads provide an invaluable lifeline for residents.

Mental health in Northern communities

Remote communities in Northern Canada are facing an increasingly urgent crisis, with individuals often having to travel long distances to receive help. Where services do exist, they are often overstretched, with high turnover rates, long wait times and inadequate infrastructure.

Indigenous youth living in these remote communities face unique mental health challenges due to intergenerational trauma and oppression, leading to higher rates of suicide and substance use. These communities also struggle with poverty, inadequate housing and lack of employment, which further exacerbate mental health issues.

Without access to proper care and support, youth in these communities are left to suffer in silence. In response, community leaders are often forced to call states of emergency in order to raise awareness about the immediate need for more access to life-saving initiatives and services, that are often only available through federal and provincial governments.

But solutions are often temporary.

LiveDifferent’s Ice Road Tour

LiveDifferent has been supporting youth in many northern and remote Indigenous communities via our Circles mental wellness program since 2017. This program is delivered by a specially trained team–typically consisting of a balance between young Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders–equipped with additional programming over two days per community.

This year, Tristen Schneider is one of those leaders.

Originally from Shawanaga First Nation, Tristen began as a Road Team Leader with LiveDifferent in 2022. She and her team were on a six-week Ice Road Tour in February to bring messages of hope and change to students in Grades six through twelve living in remote communities in Northern Manitoba.

Tristen and her team have been confronted with the difficulties and hardships these communities face due to their remoteness. She has also seen the extreme suicide crisis that has taken many lives, some as young as six years old.

“Because they have limited access to resources and support … for some youth, there’s really not a lot of choice and so suicide has now become the answer,” she says.

“The thing about being in the North here is that these youth, they’re so comfortable with death. It’s very normalized here and it almost has a numbing feeling. Whereas, you know, even the consideration of living life is more scary than [death].”

Tristen wants to use her influence to give students a sense of hope and belonging. She wants to show them that they are not victims, but heroes of their own stories.

“What we want to try to create is to have meaningful conversations with these students to hopefully shed some hope, some meaning and give them a sense of belonging,” she says. “It’s really important to us that, as we navigate each community, we have to be very adaptable and approachable, openly engaging with these students. We’re not here to force an agenda but to hear and understand from them as well. Reciprocal learning and healing.”

She has witnessed the hardships that students have endured due to a lack of connection and communication. Particularly since the implementation of COVID restrictions and school closures, many of these young people have become more withdrawn, and have found it difficult to engage in social activities. She has heard many stories from students about the difficulties of dealing with addiction, trauma from childhood, and the turbulence of their relationships with their parents and wider community.

“Some of these schools that we’re going to just had a recent suicide crisis, where there are multiple suicide attempts for students, or as in other cases, there are other deaths that are going on within communities. So each community is unique and different,” she says.

Tristen is dedicated to providing these students with the resources and support they need to realize their dreams and reach their full potential. She passionately believes that every person has the right to experience the joys of life and is determined to show these young people that there is a whole world out there waiting to be explored.

How can you help?

LiveDifferent is committed to empowering and encouraging people to live lives that care for themselves and for others. We are making a difference to those who have been forgotten and neglected and we are giving them the chance to realize their hopes and dreams.
By working together, we can make a profound difference.

Take action and help us spread awareness by donating to our Canadian Youth Fund today. By donating, you can help LiveDifferent reach as many students as possible with our Circles program, helping them to create a better future for themselves.

Together, we can make a difference and ensure no one is ever left behind.

Hear more from Tristen about the Ice Road Tours.

Author: Gina Alward

Date: May 18th, 2023