Jean and I are in Toronto taking a few days of well-deserved rest after making a presentation to the first-ever National Summit on Indigenous Mental Wellness on Sept. 23. Woohoo!

It was an awesome summit! And I even had a chance to catch up with Doug Schauerte on the way to Toronto. Doug was the deputy clerk while I was an MLA, and I hadn’t seen him since he moved back to Regina after working at the legislative assembly for 35 years. Looking good, Doug!

The summit brought people together from across Canada to make presentations on Indigenous-led projects, initiatives and services that improve the mental wellness of Canada’s Native people.

Jean Erasmus and Roy Erasmus make a presentation to an Introduction to Indigenous Studies class at the University of Toronto. Photo by Robin Gray.

There were around 70 presentations on key themes that showed how important culture and community are for Native people’s mental wellness. The themes included First Nations Mental Health and Community Based Approaches.

Our area was called Counselling for Indigenous Populations, and we presented on the Northern Indigenous Counselling (NIC) initiative through which we graduated 15 native counsellors last May.

We were invited to apply to make a presentation at the summit put on by the federal Department of Mental Health and Addictions and the Department of Indigenous Services. We submitted a summary on NIC and got accepted. Hip hip hooray!

While we were waiting to make our presentation, I saw Carolyn Bennett, who is now the minster of Mental Health and Addictions and spoke to her, saying that I met her in Yellowknife during the MMIWG hearings.

She said she was in YK twice for that as minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and I said they switched you to a new job. She said, “Yes, you guys prepared me well for it.” We both laughed. Just then Jean came up and I introduced them to each other.

Jean invited Minister Bennett to come watch our presentation and the minister told her assistant who was standing behind her to note when our presentation was so they could come. We showed her where it was in the program.

So, we’re making our presentation and who walks in? Minister Bennett! How cool is that? The speaker after us said she didn’t know if she was more nervous about speaking in front of other presenters or in front of the minister. LOL!

At the closing of the summit, two ladies joined us at our table while Minister Bennett was making her closing remarks. The lady next to Jean began writing furiously. I thought, “Wow, she’s really interested in Minister Bennett’s speech.”

A few minutes later Minister Patty Hajdu was making her closing remarks and I thought she looked familiar. I said to Jean, “Is that the lady that was sitting next to you?” Jean said, “Yes”. I said, “That’s Minister Hajdu, and we didn’t even know.” Eschia, take it easy, eh!

When the minister came back, we acted like we knew who she was all along and told her it was an awesome summit. She said they want to have one every year so Native people can learn and get new ideas from each other.

The crowd watches the presentation by Jean and Roy Erasmus at the National Summit on Indigenous Wellness in Toronto. Photo by Cristina Soto

Presenting at U of T

We also made a presentation to an Indigenous Studies class at the University of Toronto. Jean’s niece, Dr. Robin Gray, asked us to present in the area of Indigenous people’s health.

We talked about how we provide counselling and workshop services in the North, then made the same presentation we made at the summit.

I’m glad we got there early because it almost felt like I was in class again, except I knew I didn’t have to do assignments or exams. LOL! Being able to see the faces of the students was different.

I realized how easy it is to see who is engaged or who can’t wait to leave. The other thing I noticed is that the students who asked questions were mostly sitting in the first rows.

And I realized I never sat in the front of a class in my life, except for when the teachers put me in front in elementary school so they could keep an eye on me. Hahahaha!

In closing, I want to mention one presentation at the summit that was about an app a First Nation uses to keep in touch with its members. People can check in every day on what they’re doing and how they feel.

This app allows healthcare professionals to watch for behaviours and warning signs of relapse or if someone is having dark thoughts. In one incident, a client wrote he was thinking of harming himself.

A nurse saw this and went to the client’s house and saved his life. I’m certainly going to look into this. Native people have so many innovative mental wellness initiatives happening across the country.

All in all, an amazing trip!

Jean Erasmus and Roy Erasmus make a presentation to the National Summit on Indigenous Wellness in Toronto on Sept. 23. Photo by Cristina Soto

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