Being a young person can be exciting and fun-filled, but it can also be stressful and challenging. Many of us are thriving, making positive choices, and working toward our futures – while others are struggling.
Mental health issues and problematic substance use are common challenges for youth. If we want to help motivate ourselves and others to make healthy choices, it's important that we start by accepting ourselves and each other where we're at, without judgement, shame, or blame. As youth, we need safe spaces to be ourselves, to do healthy activities, to learn, to have fun, and to belong.
Fortunately, there are many inspirational Indigenous youth who can serve as role models, whether we find them in real life or on social media. Following are some of the strategies Indigenous youth have shared with us about how we can help keep ourselves motivated to maintain our health and wellness, including either abstaining from drinking or drinking responsibly.
Being connected to our cultures. For many young Indigenous people, staying connected to our cultures and language provides a sense of belonging/community, strength, and healing. Cultural activities – such as beading, drumming, dancing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, singing, and more – nurture our spirits and are far more than just physical activities. Each community has different activities, practices and protocols. Common to all is the connection to the land and waters that is foundational to our Indigenous identity.
“I want to thank my role models for teaching me my community's traditional ways – including how to stay focused with pow-wow dancing and regalia making. I intend to carry on these traditions with my family." ~ Dallas George Jr., Esk'etemc First Nation
Focusing on our goals and dreams. Taking good care of our bodies, including consuming healthy food and drink, is one big stepping stone towards achieving our goals and dreams. It's important to take stock of the things that do not support our wellness goals, e.g., binge-drinking or relying on alcohol to cope, and to create a plan that includes healthy alternatives, e.g., spending time practicing our favourite sport, hobby, or craft.
“I made healthy changes to stop drinking alcohol more than a year ago, so I can focus on school, my new family life and starting my new business Rocks to Jewelry Aspire." ~ Tina Francis, Sek'w'el'was, St'at'imc Nation
Keeping ourselves and loved ones safe. Staying alert and in control of ourselves is always important. There are many risks and dangers in this world, and we need to be aware of this in a healthy way. The consumption of alcohol affects judgement, focus and coordination. In Canada, road crashes caused by drinking and driving continue to be the leading cause of death among teenagers.
Serving as a role model for our community. Role models are individuals who lead by example. They inspire others with their integrity, compassion and determination. A community can be a group of friends, teammates, or a group of people who share a common goal or interests. Living strong with a healthy set of values can be inspiring to everyone in our community, from young children or youth to adults. For the role model, aside from the many benefits they experience from their good choices, helping others in this way is deeply satisfying.
“I believe that playing hockey and going to rodeos helps me to live a positive, healthy lifestyle, which is also good for my physical well-being." ~ Preston Robbins-Myers, Esk'etemc First Nation
Continue the cycle of healing. As Indigenous people, we all understand the necessity of continuing to move forward on our healing journeys. According to some traditional teachings, the healing process may take seven generations. Despite our collective past, Indigenous people are making great strides to heal our intergenerational trauma. The resilience of our people, especially our youth, is inspirational. Together, we can repair and restore the pains of the past and continue to build strong foundations for future generations. Abstaining from alcohol, or at least drinking responsibly, is one very good way to do this.
Learn more about Strengthening Our Connections to Promote Life: A Life Promotion Toolkit by Indigenous Youth.
Learn more about how Indigenous Youth in BC are staying well, even during the pandemic. Read their pages and watch their videos to find out what they are doing to feel connected.
KUU-US Crisis Service is available 24/7 to support Indigenous people in BC. Child/Youth can call 1-250-723-2040.