June 20, 2013 6:03 pm
Updated: June 20, 2013 6:05 pm

Volunteer works to stop high rate of suicide among aboriginal youth

Statistics surrounding Aboriginal youth are troubling.

Aboriginal youth are five to six times more likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal youth, according to Health Canada. And a new report from TD Economics reveals more: Slightly more than 60 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians do not have the literacy skills necessary to create a better life for themselves and their families.

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“The fact that less than half of First Nations youth graduate from high school compared to 80 per cent of their non-Aboriginal peers is extremely concerning,” added Sonya Gulati, senior economist, TD Bank Group and the report’s author.

Front line workers attribute loss of identity, the inter-generational effects of residential school and racism to the high number of youth suicide and illiteracy.

But one organization has devoted itself to changing those statistics.

For more than 20 years, Dave Jones and Turtle Concepts have been visiting hundreds of Aboriginal communities across the country, reaching more than 50,000 youth.

“I want the new generations to feel proud of who they are, know who and where they came from…but to keep moving forward,” Jones says.

Jones said he wants the youth to look past the stereotypes of Aboriginal people.

“A lot of times it is the strong stoic quiet honourable looking person,” he said. “I’m putting forth the loud over the top, out there, brand new stereotype that we’re allowed to be finally.”

And his charisma is infectious. Jones and his “Turtles” visited the community of Chippewas of the Thames last year.

The Principal of Antler River Elementary school, Heather Pais, says the confidence boost was seem almost immediately.

“As the two days went on they came out of their shell. Even the quiet kids that never say anything were responding to his questions, “ Pais said.

“He makes them feel good with his words, their accomplishments in the class, so they want to do more because it makes them feel good.”

Megan Leigh Huff knows that firsthand. She became a “Turtle” when she was 12 years old. Huff said she faced some difficulty growing up because she didn’t grow up on the reserve and it was a struggle when her family moved back there.

“I know when I first moved back to the reserve, I dealt with bullying,” Huff said. “When I first came here I was introduced to something I wasn’t familiar with and it was struggling at times.

Being introduced to Turtle Concepts and the positive messages gave Huff hope, she said.

“I think that feeling of hope was instilled because his program was real and it was exactly what we were dealing with on reserve.”

Almost 50 per cent of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 25. Aboriginals are also the fastest growing population in Canada. Many experts agree, there needs to be a focus on the youth.

Jones says he is on his way to creating a new Aboriginal stereotype.

“The new totem pole that i’m trying to create will be an excitable, happy, smiling woohoo i’m here!”

© Shaw Media, 2013

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