This summer the Quu’asa program added two new positions to improve how its mental health and cultural services reach young people in Port Alberni.
Amelie Duquette and Lisa Forryan began their roles as Quu’asa youth workers on July 23, part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s Teechuktl Mental Health Services. As Port Alberni is the urban hub for many Nuu-chah-nulth communities, the need arose for more resources to help prevent youth from being lured into “high-risk behaviours,” said Teechuktl Mental Health Services Manager Vina Robinson. The ongoing opioid crisis is a foremost concern for young Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, she said.
NTC Director of Health Simon Read has seen a desire in the tribal council to work with youth in a more positive and preventative way.
“It’s come up at a number of director’s meetings, it came up during a series of meetings last year around mental health and wellness. It’s a widespread concern,” he said. “We have a Nuu-chah-nulth Health Plan, which was adopted by the Board of Directors earlier this year. One of the focuses of that is children and youth as well, plus mental wellness.”
Robinson observed the long-term harm of displacement while speaking with a young Toquaht man living in Nanaimo’s tent city.
“He says, ‘Why were we displaced? Why did I have to go into a foster home? Why did I have to live in the city? Why couldn’t I live in my community?” recalled Robinson. “Our culture is our foundation and a lot of our people that live away from home don’t have our culture.”
“If they live on a reserve, they have culture ongoing, and us living away from home, we don’t have access to that,” she added. “The cultural teachings incorporated into what we’re doing as a Quu’asa team will really benefit our youth by assisting them with identifying who they are.”
Both of the youth workers come from outside of Nuu-chah-nulth territory, and cultural learning has become part of their education in taking on the roles. With a degree in child and youth care, Forryan has been focussing on developing comfortable relationships with young people over the last few months.
“It takes a lot to get a marginalized youth to trust you, to come talk to you, so we’re in a process now of being as visible as we possibly can,” she said. “That’s attending things like Nights Alive, and going to the schools, wandering around places that they might hang out just so we become a familiar, non-threatening face.”
Forryan grew up in Campbell River, and comes into her position with a fresh perspective on both Nuu-chah-nulth culture and Port Alberni. So far she’s found that young people who aren’t on sports teams or in other extracurricular activities offered at local schools struggle finding things to do.
“The main thing that I’m hearing is that there’s not enough to do - there’s not enough youth activities if you’re not in the school, if you’re marginalized,” Forryan said. “One of the things we’d like to do is be able to help them find healthier avenues.”
Duquette grew up in Shefford, a town east of Montreal, Quebec, and has degrees in criminology and anthropology, with a specialization in First Nations studies.
“I’m intrigued by why people are as they are,” she said, noting how this fascination has applied to her own family history, including her great grandmother who was Blackfoot. “Sometimes we feel that there’s something missing. With the history of colonization there was a disconnection, there’s still a disconnection.”
So far she’s relied on teachings from other Quu’asa staff to learn about Nuu-chah-nulth culture, and with this guidance Duquette hopes to bring her new perspective to support young Nuu-chah-nulth people.
“Sometimes for them it can be easier to talk to someone they don’t know,” she said. “I’ve had the chance and the privilege of being part of a brushing. It’s really amazing that they are letting us learn about their culture...I just love to learn about it.”
Duquette’s interests are in outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, camping and canoeing, while Forryan’s hobbies are more craft-oriented, ranging from cedar weaving to Dungeons and Dragons.
“They hired two people with radically different passions in what we do for hobbies and things like that, but with the same passion for helping kids find their hearts,” said Forryan. “It helps that we’re both curious, we’ll sit and listen. With the youth that we work with, they’ve got amazing stories too. Taking the time to listen is something that a lot of youth don’t feel that people do, especially adults. They don’t feel that they have voice.”
Duquette finds that connecting with one’s ancestral culture will be a different journey for each individual.
“We want to hear more from the youth of what they want,” she said. “It’s all going to be different for each person, each individual.”
“A teacher should learn just as much from their students as the students learn from them,” added Forryan.
Amelie Duquette and Lisa Forryan are based at the Teechuktl Mental Health Services office on 3483 Third Avenue in Port Alberni.