Leon La Fortune

Leon La Fortune

Runners take suicide awareness on the road

NANAIMO - Island run spurs discussion and healing over suicide in First Nation communities.

A team of eight runners, lead by a young woman who lost her brother to suicide, is on a journey to promote suicide prevention in First Nation communities with the Heliset Hale 2016 run.

The runners set out from Port Hardy Saturday and will reach their final destination at the Pauquachin Nation in North Saanich Sunday (Sept. 25).

The team arrived at Snuneymuxw First Nation which hosted the team for a dinner and discussion Wednesday

The event’s founder Kelly Paul, of the Tsartlip First Nation, lost her 17-year-old brother Isaac when took his own life. His death sparked her to somehow prevent other families from suffering such loss. Kelly combined her interest in sports and the outdoors with her dream of running the length of the Island after friends suggesting she do something to bring awareness to communities.

“That’s when it really hit us, when we started really noticing how big suicide is,” said Ryan Paul, Kelly’s brother. “Kelly had the insight to see just how much people were hurting. Just realizing that it wasn’t just our family, not just our community, but it’s everyone and it was her idea to just start running from community to community, spreading the word and saying it’s OK to talk about it. It’s OK to express your feelings.”

She staged the first run in 2013.

People shared their emotions and frustrations at Wednesday’s gathering about how suicide isn’t spoken about and often swept under the rug within close-knit First Nations communities where the death of one member affects almost everyone.

“I want this stigma and shame lifted from us,” said one woman who’d lost a family member and was among those who shed tears as they spoke to the gathering.

For now the run and the benefits from it is focused on First Nations because, said Sharon Olson, Kelly’s mother, of the high suicide rate and social and cultural conditions that are unique to the people.

“It’s just neat to see the elders sharing their hurts to the youth,” Olson said. “What does that say about our youth, this generation, how strong they are?”

Starting this year the run, visiting 15 Island First Nations, also becomes an annual event.

“It may expand later … so which direction it will go and how big it will go? One community asked us, you know, I hope you go to all the First Nations across Canada,” Olson said.

Olson also wants to set up a scholarship, in her son’s name, for high school graduates.

To learn more and view the run schedule, please visit the run website at www.helisethale.com or Facebook page at http://bit.ly/2cPeqUe.