Indigenous youth conference focuses on mental health issues

Jasmine Labillois is one of two co-chairs of Mi'kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council/Photo by Stephen Brake

Indigenous youth need to take their health seriously if they want to do well in their studies.

That was the message of the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council conference that was held August 5-7 in Halifax. More than 80 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet youth took part in the weekend conference. The theme of this year’s conference was health, mental health and spiritual well-being.

“We come from a legacy of trauma, you know, with residential schools,” Jasmine Labillois, a co-chair of the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council, said in an interview Sunday.

“I feel like we’ve been (affected by) intergenerational trauma,” the 21-year-old university student said.

“Our parents and grandparents have been directly affected by residential schools and that legacy goes on,” Labillois, who is Mi’kmaq from the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, said.

Ryan Moulton is a co-chair of Mi'kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council/Photo by Stephen Brake
Ryan Moulton is a co-chair of Mi’kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council/Photo by Stephen Brake

Ryan Moulton, who also co-chairs the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council with Labillois, said a recent string of suicides in First Nation communities in New Brunswick highlight the need to offer workshops in mental health issues.

“We wanted to make (mental health) a focus but not stigamatize it as anything negative or that’s actually wrong for you to have mental health issues,” Moulton, who is Maliseet from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, said.

“Everybody goes through things,” the 25-year-old youth worker said.

“We can’t do well if we don’t feel well” – Youth Study

All of the workshops, panel discussions and presentations were aimed at showing young people how to recognize their own health issues and what to do to address them, Labillois explained.

Some of the workshops offered at the conference included drum-making, medicine pouch teaching, financial literacy, addictions and mental health, healthy relationships and sexuality and physical activities such as kickboxing, zumba and yoga.

Toni Goree is an educator with the Halifax Regional School Board/Photo by Stephen Brake
Toni Goree is an educator with the Halifax Regional School Board/Photo by Stephen Brake

Toni Goree, an educator with the Halifax Regional School Board, presented the findings of a research project she conducted with Indigenous and Black youth on health and education at the conference on Sunday.

“I asked Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Black youth what their perceptions were in the relationship between feeling well, good health and being able to get an education,” Goree explained.

“The bottom line pretty much is no, they’re not feeling well enough to be able to do the work,” Goree said.

“One participant said to me, ‘We can’t do well if we don’t feel well,’” she said.

Indigenous and Black youth told Goree they are skipping meals on a regular basis.

“That may be about food insecurity. It may be just they’re young and they don’t feel like making food but it’s a real issue,” she said.

“I know, as a teacher, if you have kids in front of you that are not fed, they are not going to be able to take up the learning,” Goree said.

Other issues youth participants brought up included the lack of access to technology such as laptops and internet in order to complete assignments and that teachers and instructors were not preparing them for the workforce.


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About Maureen Googoo 139 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news for 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a post-graduate degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.