Stó:lō people fish with traditional dipnets on the Fraser River in the early 20th century. Charles Macmunn/Wikipedia Commons

Connection to land is key to ending high suicide rates says UFV expert

Professor responds to high rate of First Nations suicides reported by Fraser Health

Connection to land, culture and community is key to improving mental health for Indigenous youth, says University of Fraser Valley (UFV) associate professor Dr. Wenona Hall.

Hall is a professor of Indigenous studies and a member of the Stó:lo Nation. She says her initial reaction to the recently released report on youth and youth adult injury reports from First Nations Health Authority and B.C. Coroners Service is an emotional one.

“I am Stó:lo, my family is impacted,” she says. “I don’t think you’ll find a single Stó:lo family that isn’t impacted either directly or indirectly because we’re all related and interconnected.

“These statistics represent lives,” she adds. “[This] points to the severity of the situation and the fact that it really is, in my opinion, a crisis and everybody should be on board.”

In the report, Fraser Health displays a startling gap in the rate of First Nations suicides for the region, with 81.3 for every seven non-first nation suicides – the largest gap by a longshot compared to reports from the Interior, Island, Northern and Vancouver Coastal health authorities.

READ: Indigenous youth deaths preventable, B.C. coroner says

Hall says connection to land, community and culture are vital for mental health in Indigenous youth. She says three factors need to be addressed to fix the complex issue illustrated by the report: land rights for Indigenous peoples; abolishment of the Indian Act, which dictates land-use permits and land management; and the upholding of laws from government and courts or a federally adopted “decolonizing policy.”

“I think one of the things that will drastically reduce these statistics for the government and the courts is if we have political and legal recognition of our title to our land – all our land, not just these pitiful little postage stamp reserves,” Hall says.

“All of this land belongs to the Stó:lo people and that needs to be politically and legally recognized,” she adds. “And then we, and especially our kids, need unrestricted access to that land.”

A report from the House of Commons on the Standing Committee of Indigenous and Northern Affairs reads that “a proper understanding of the conditions which cause mental distress and suicide is essential in preventing suicide from taking place …”

One of those conditions, according to Hall, is the legal restrictions put on fishing and general access to the land.

“Our land is our number one resource, and our kids don’t have access to the land,” she says. “And that’s where our health and well being is grounded – in our ability to go into the mountains, in our ability to get onto the rivers and the lakes and the streams. The ability to hunt, the ability to fish. That is all mental health and well-being to us.

READ: Chilliwack First Nations bands reject Kinder Morgan cash

“The settler society doesn’t really have a connection to culture, so they have a hard time understanding what we mean by that word. Like what our drum means to us, what our song means to us. We can’t have our culture without our land.”

But the Stó:lo people, Hall says, are strong and resilient.

“We have survived here … for thousands and thousands of years. We have survived earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, famines, floods, colonialism – you name it.

“I don’t know too many people that would be able to survive this generational trauma of residential schools and the Indian Act and the [entire] system.”

Just Posted

WATCH: Kan Yon restaurant break-in caught on camera

Owner Kevin Kwong said the break-in will not stop him from doing business

Letter: With Greyhound cuts, cancer care still available for rural residents

Editor, In light of the Greyhound bus lines reducing service in British… Continue reading

Savage West rock at a hoedown for a cause in Hope

Owners of Broke Buckle Clothing Co. held the event to benefit the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Rolling Pin celebrates being crowned sweetest bakery in Western Canada

Fans of the bakery voted online and in person in the Dawn Foods contest this summer

A tiny shop with a big heart for the Hope hospital

The gift shop at the Fraser Canyon Hospital is bursting at the seams with new products

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

VIDEO: Giants head into holidays with a win at home

Vancouver G-Men don’t play next until Dec. 28, after 2-1 victory over Prince George Sunday.

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

VIDEO: Giants fall to Royals 4-2 in Victoria Saturday night

Second loss in as many days for G-Men, who are back home in Langley today to take on the Cougars.

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035

Most Read