The Heliset Halé relay team gets set to start the Campbell River leg of the event, which would see them run from Duncan Bay Store to KDC Health. Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
In 2013, Kelly Paul of the Tsartlip First Nation decided something more needed to be done to raise awareness about suicide amongst First Nations members nationwide, so she took to the streets – or rather the Island highway.
She called her awareness-building run Heliset Hále, which translates as, “Awaken the life within you,” and while it was well-supported, she says, it also took a long time to complete.
“We thought it was just a one-time thing we would do,” Paul says as she awaits the Campbell River leg of the Island-long campaign, which was run from Duncan Bay Store to the KDC Health building downtown Monday afternoon. “It took us over 35 days to run from Port Hardy to Victoria, and that was a long time to take away from our families and work, so this time we thought we’d do it faster.”
This year’s run, which Paul says is the first of what will hopefully become an annual event thanks to the push and support from the communities involved last time around, will take nine days.
She says going forward their plan is for the team to do the relay every year in September, which is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
“What we do is travel through the First Nations communities on Vancouver Island, share a meal and have the opportunity to share our messages and listen to the messages the communities want to share, as well,” Paul says.
Allan Campbell with KDC Health, which hosted the Campbell River leg of the campaign, says it’s an important initiative they are happy to support.
“Our willingness to be a part of it is simple really,” Campbell says. “KDC Health is strongly interested in prevention – it’s a huge part of what we do, so when they contacted us again, we were all over it.”
Campbell says it’s important for people to hear first-hand accounts and to open up about this admittedly-unpleasant topic, because as terrible and terrifying as many statistics are – like those surrounding First Nations suicide rates – they don’t tell a story people can really relate to.
“Statistics are important in that they help us make decisions on where to focus our efforts,” Campbell says, “but they are highly de-personalized in and of themselves. So to have these people come out and talk about their own personal stories, it really does have an impact on people. I think that personal piece brings about a bit more openness and makes people realize that asking for support is okay. A lot of the messages that are going to be shared in these personal stories are about reaching out and what that was like or how to go about doing that, because that’s often one of the biggest challenges for people.”
Wei Wai Kum Elder James Quatell is particularly passionate about this cause, and was happy to join the Campbell River leg of the journey and welcome the group to his nation.
“I believe strongly that our ancestors and our elders would be saying this is no time to be quiet on this,” Quatell says. “This is an epidemic and it needs to stop. What these youngsters are doing – running to broaden awareness and bring that awareness to the people – they’re making a big statement, and that statement needs to be heard.”
After it is heard, however, it needs to continue to resonate into the community and build in volume, Quatell admits.
“Today is about planting the seed,” Quatell says, “and then we have to water it however we can. It’s our responsibility to say, ‘yeah, let’s do this. Let’s join hands and make the life we want, which doesn’t include people taking their own lives.’”
Although the initiative is not, at this point, designed as a fundraiser – after all, you can’t “cure” suicide by throwing money at it – the group is accepting donations at helisethale.com for those who would like to support the runners, who obviously have expenses as they run the length of Vancouver Island.
If they have any funds left over at the end of the run, Paul says, they will be setting up a legacy scholarship through School District 63 (Saanich), which will carry on the message of resilience, community and support they’re trying to spread this week on their run.
“It’s about bringing people together, allowing them to explore their strengths and encouraging them to be the best they can.”