The Attawapiskat First Nation’s community in northern Ontario has declared a suicide emergency with over 100 suicide attempts in the past six months. See suicide crisis. “This disaster hit the news, but the same problems exist in all our communities—it’s across the entire country,” says Kelly Terbasket, director of IndigenEYEZ, a project bringing Creative Empowerment programs to British Columbia First Nation’s youth. “I have lived with the results of colonization and residential schools my whole life. I experience the fragmentation of communities, families, and nations on a daily basis.”
After more than 20 years managing community projects, Kelly co-founded IndigenEYEZ to heal First Nations communities by inspiring an intergenerational legacy of well-being among Aboriginal people in British Columbia and elsewhere. Kelly has Syilx and European roots, and lives in her family’s ancestral home in the south Okanagan Valley. “IndigenEYEZ is medicine for relationships,” says Kelly.
IndigenEYEZ offers community leadership trainings and youth camps, all focused on mending the broken relationships caused by more than a century of oppression. The goal is to strengthen four essential relationships: with self, with others, with nature, and with culture. “By healing these connections, we can address the social determinants of health challenges,” Kelly says. According to Health Canada, First Nations people face disproportionately high rates of chronic and contagious diseases, mental health issues, and shorter life expectancy.
Kelly explains, “We must rebuild our capacity for healthy relationships. It’s hard to move forward without safety and trust. The Creative Empowerment Model provides an antidote to fragmented relationships. It provides tools to rebuild communities.”
Partners for Youth Empowerment facilitators helped IndigenEYEZ get off the ground by providing mentorship and facilitation support at adult trainings and youth camps. Kelly and her team tailored the Creative Empowerment Model to meet the needs and embrace the cultures of First Nations communities. In 2015, in its second full year of operation, IndigenEYEZ directly reached over 550 participants and unleashed exponential ripple effects. Last year’s youth camps welcomed 125 youth and 40 adults from ten different First Nations. One of the IndigenEYEZ camps was covered by the CBC.
The need for IndigenEYEZ programs is great. Says Kelly, “We’re working in only a small portion of the places we’re asked to go: health forums, strategic planning groups, conferences, you name it.” Government funding to assist with rebuilding Aboriginal communities is limited, so IndigenEYEZ needs additional support to grow its impact. Currently, a fundraiser is set up to send 10 First Nations youth to this summer’s IndigenEYEZ camp.
There is much progress to be made, and much pain to be healed, but Kelly lights up when talking about her work. “It fills my heart up when I see people laughing together! To see them connect like that, and have fun.”
Want to learn more? Click here to visit the website of IndigenEYEZ.