Ḡunʼdux̄ Megan Metz (Haisla Nation) is a champion for youth mental health and wellness. The 21-year-old from Kitamaat Village draws on Haisla teachings as well as mainstream learnings to take on a variety of responsibilities in her community, the province, and the country.
She shares that her goal is to help other youth connect with their identity – something that has supported her own mental health and wellness:
“Discovering who I am, where I come from, and what my purpose is here…through learning my family history and our Nation's history, I found a confidence I didn't know I had," says Megan.
Finding Her Path as a Champion
Megan's first opportunity to step into leadership came in 2015 when she took part in the Youth Ambassador Program – a three-week exchange in the USA. She was inspired by how other participants were actively involved in their communities.
During the exchange, Megan developed a plan for an anti-bullying project responding to incidents she witnessed and experienced in her community. Returning to Kitamaat, she held her first workshop for the Haisla junior girls' basketball team.
Thanks to her networking at the Youth Ambassadors Program, she was contacted a few years later to attend a Canadian Colloquium in Hawai'i. The topic was Indigenous Peoples, Canada, and the United States: Sovereignty, Sustainability, and Reconciliation. Through the Colloquium, she participated in a leadership program at the Kohala Institute where she had the opportunity to share her experience and provide feedback to scholars.
Connecting with a community of champions
Throughout these experiences, Megan gained momentum and continued to meet like-minded youth. She attended various training opportunities and conferences such as the SevenGen Indigenous Student Energy Summit and the Canadian Roots Exchange Rural Youth Reconciliation Initiative.
Recently, she has also worked closely with Teresa Windsor, the Community Cultural Coordinator with Haisla Nation Council and a mentor to Megan. During her summer breaks, Megan holds a summer student position shadowing Teresa and is actively involved in annual cultural camps for the Nation's youth. Each year, she leads a camp conversation about anxiety, depression and intergenerational trauma.
“We talk about how the history of [settler] laws and policies impacted our people, and how these impacts can manifest in our communities. It's important to have this discussion, to normalize talking about it. I wasn't taught about intergenerational trauma growing up. The sooner you can learn, the sooner you can start to break these harmful cycles," Megan says.
Megan is also a founding member of FNHA's Life Promotion for All my Relations Advisory Committee which was founded with support from the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and Fraser Health. The group brings together Indigenous youth from each region in BC to receive mental health and wellness skills training, provide youth input into initiatives and organizations around BC, and deliver wellness initiatives in their communities.
On a national level, Megan is an outspoken member of Daughters of the Vote, which supports emerging young women leaders to participate in the formal political sphere and take action in their local communities.
Cultural Connection in COVID-19
During COVID-19, Megan returned home from Okanagan College where she is near completion of her Associate of Arts Degree in Anthropology. She shares that connecting with loved ones and participating in cultural activities is part of how she takes care of her mental health and wellness during the pandemic.
One activity that she participated in was a medicine harvest organized by the Nation's Cultural Department. The group received teachings about how ʼuíq̓as (devil's club), ƛ̓aq̓wet̓alas (alder), ʼaux̄ʷsuli (Indian hellebore) and púy̓as (Labrador tea) were used by Haisla peoples in past pandemics.
“I've also been working on traditional foods, preparing fish for the smoke house and jarring fish with my mamáʼu (grandmother). It's a lot of work, but you end up feeling really good after," she shares.
Megan also shares what she is learning with others through weekly Haisla núyem (creation “stories, legends, histories") and during an annual event called guaƛap days (“to help one another"). This event is held in June to celebrate National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples' Day. This year, the event included performances, teachings, storytelling, language lessons, and beading classes which all took place online.
Megan's Anthropology studies and cultural teachings will come in handy as she participates in two community projects coming up.
First, she will join an archeological dig on her territory. Though Haisla núyem already document how long the community has been there, the dig will add physical evidence.
Later this month, she will participate in gatherings where fluent x̄a'islak̓ala speakers will work together to preserve the language. The Rapid Word Collection workshop aims to document over 10,000 words which will then become a dictionary. Megan has returned to x̄a'islak̓ala lessons she began in preschool and elementary, after having to switch to French when classes in her own language were not available at her high school.
“Language is such a huge part of our identity. It impacts the way you view the world and how you perceive things," she explains. “I want to be able to experience my territory and see it the way my ancestors would have seen it. The names of the places, the names of the plants and animals."
She hopes that her own journey will show others that it's empowering to start to learn this cultural knowledge again, and step away from the shame some people carry for not knowing what they feel they are supposed to know. She acknowledges that the rights to practice these ancestral ways were once taken away, so not everyone may feel ready to reconnect and relearn quite yet.
“It's okay not to know, it's okay to not be able to speak your language right now. It's never too late to start to learn again."