Ice Road Tour spreads message of empathy to First Nations youth
In the halls of St. Theresa Point High School, Francine Manoakeesick keeps her friends close.
The 15-year-old has never met her father and no longer lives with her mother.
“I had to hold it in a lot and I had to stay strong for my brother. I had to take care of him,” she said.
It’s not easy for the Grade 9 student to talk about.
That’s why a group of artists and speakers have made a point to visit the remote First Nation.
It’s called LiveDifferent, a national charity that sends teams of young people from school to school, spreading the message of empathy.
“What they need is love,” said LiveDifferent performer Carlos Ross. “They need someone to be there to encourage them and to love them and to accept them for who they are.”
Right now the team is on the first-ever Ice Road Tour. Monday, they stopped in St. Theresa Point.
While in the community, each member publicly shared their own story with high school students.
Some talked about suicide attempts, others their struggles with drug addictions and resentment towards their parents.
According to Health Canada, suicide rates among First Nations youth are five times the national average.
Winnipegger Brad Mason lost his teenage daughter, Samantha, a few years ago to suicide.
After her passing, Mason saw the LiveDifferent presentation with his wife and they decided to help bring it to 13 northern Manitoba First Nations in their daughter’s honour.
“We went through a couple of boxes of Kleenex, because both of us felt very strongly that, had Samantha been able to witness the presentation, it very well could’ve had a positive effect on her life,” Mason said.
MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said messaging like this is a necessity.
She’s heard from chiefs and council on the campaign trail that youth empowerment isn’t at the top of their list of needs and yet, it’s the key to community success.
“I think the more we remind ourselves of that, and remind young people that they can make a difference in their own community, and their own province, and their own country, the better off the rest of us will be,” she said after seeing the presentation herself.
Mason added the most powerful moments of the LiveDifferent program happen during sharing circles.
“We had a 10-year-old girl in one community who had already planned out her suicide and she had it written down in her journal. She was going to take her life and she said that now that she had heard the presentation, it’s given her hope.”
The reaction at St. Theresa Point is just as immediate. Students opened up to volunteers, some for the very first time.
“As soon as the presentation was over, I went to the counsellor to talk about what’s been going on,” said 15-year-old Thea Harper. She said she had been struggling with loneliness.
“I needed that. I needed them. I needed that push, that motivation.”
Manoakeesick said after a day of participating in the sessions, she no longer feels alone.
“I was glad that I wasn’t the only one going through that, that I know other people are going through the same thing and that it’s ok to go through that.”
Michelle Gerwing, Videojournalist
CTV News Winnipeg
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017 6:29PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, March 2, 2017 7:25PM CST