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Indigenous project will focus on improving mental health amongst youth

Patrick Ballett, a Grade 5 student at Our Lady of Mercy School, poses for a photo with Darlene Sexton, a Mi’kmaq knowledge sharer/keeper who will be volunteering her time for a project entitled “Elders and Youth Breaking the Silence on Mental Health.” Ballett’s drawing was selected as the logo for the project.
Patrick Ballett, a Grade 5 student at Our Lady of Mercy School, poses for a photo with Darlene Sexton, a Mi’kmaq knowledge sharer/keeper who will be volunteering her time for a project entitled “Elders and Youth Breaking the Silence on Mental Health.” Ballett’s drawing was selected as the logo for the project. - Frank Gale

Darlene Sexton, a retired teacher in St. George’s, believes there are a lot of things needed for society to get back to mental health wellness.

That’s why she, as a person with a lot of information and knowledge to share about the aboriginal culture, is excited to be involved in a project is titled “Elders and Youth Breaking the Silence on Mental Health,” funded by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The project has a focus of developing a culturally based, youth-focused approach to mental health and will involve youth ages nine to 14 years and elders.

Sexton said what she’s most excited about is that this will be hands-on stuff and up to those involved to determine how it goes.

While she doesn’t like to be referred to as an elder, she said her role will be as a knowledge sharer/keeper and she admits she is still learning continuously every day.

Sexton will be providing cultural leadership, knowledge and teachings on the basics of their Mi’kmaq culture and provide some cultural sensitivity.

“We need them (youth) to be more sensitive and aware of the different teachings regarding things like the medicine wheel and smudging as the ceremonies and teachings we (Indigenous people) do are so calming,” she said.

Sexton said they want to give youth opportunities to de-stress — come to terms with themselves, with their mind and their mental health.

The project will be going on for a year and, as a former teacher, her main purpose as a volunteer is to see how the children develop over time.

“I think the main thing for me is to help the youth look for a positive in every negative,” she said.

Patrick Ballett, a Grade 5 student at Our Lady of Mercy School in St. George’s, has been given a special invitation to join after his drawing was selected as a logo for the project.

The drawing featured mostly all of the elements of the project — from a sunset to a dreamcatcher, a calm lake with an elder on the shore and even a birch bark canoe.

While Ballett is not sure if he’ll join the group yet, he likes the idea of good mental health, which he sees as being happy about yourself, not being down on yourself and appreciative of everything you have — no matter what.

Valentina Nolan, who has been hired by the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network as project co-ordinator, said the project will bring elders and youth together to work on community specific solutions.

She said the project’s aim is to empower indigenous youth living off reserve to ensure they understand their roles in their families, communities and the world at large.

Nolan said as youth develop a relationship with their Elders and knowledge of where they come from they will become stronger. Culturally based programming can be anything from a talking circle to a fishing trip, from a sweat lodge to berry picking.

Elders and Youth Breaking the Silence on Mental Health target communities

* Benoit’s Cove

* Lourdes

* St. George’s

* Stephenville

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