A Recap of the LWRI Symposium

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The Listuguj Wellness Renewal Initiative (LWRI) focuses on the well-being and health of all community members, from youth to Elders.  The initiative strives to provide education, resources, and overall support to all. This includes the promotion of cultural and holistic approaches to wellness, empowering community members to overcome substance abuse and addictions, and advocating for positive change.

On February 21st and 22nd, the LWRI held a two-day Wellness Symposium at the Listuguj Community Development Center. This event consisted of many guest speakers and presenters focusing on the topic of overall wellness in the community. Several booths were set up inside with a variety of information and resource materials.  A sacred fire was held outside for the duration of the event by John Paul Lavigne.  Lunch was provided on both days by Tyana Barnaby.

The event began with an opening prayer and smudge from Glenda Wysote LaBillois.

Councillor Chad Gedeon spoke on behalf of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government’s (LMG) Chief and Council. Regarding the LWRI, Gedeon said, “I think we can all agree what is important to our community is its wellness and better health – mentally, physically, and spiritually.” Gedeon’s speech was followed by a video clip from LMG’s CEO Bassem Abdrabou.

Glenda Wysote LaBillois returned to the podium and spoke about her role as a social worker, and how culture and tradition played an important role in helping to overcome trauma in her life.

The Listuguj Community Health Services Directorate began their portion of presentations starting with Director, Donna Vernon Metallic. Metallic spoke about the many programs and services available within Health Services.

Dr. Stéphanie Marsan and RN Johanna Sincére also spoke on behalf of the Listuguj Community Health Services Directorate. Both Marsan and Sincere work at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Universite de Montreal (CHUM) specializing in addictions and have been working with Listuguj since 2019. Some of the topics that were covered were the current opioid crisis, harm reduction strategies, and what treatments are available at the CHUM for those struggling with addictions and substance abuse. These treatments include inpatient and outpatient clinics, evaluations, detox services, consultations, withdrawal support and management, and specific services with rapid access for Indigenous clients.

Dr. Marsan said, “We are living through an opioid crisis right now,” and provided some signs and symptoms on how to tell if someone is going through an opioid overdose:

  • Shallow breathing or no breathing.
  • Blue lips/fingertips.
  • Drowsy/unconsciousness.
  • Dizziness/confusion.
  • Choking/gurgling/snoring sounds.
  • Cold or moist skin.
  • Very small pupils.

Sincére spoke about substance use, harm reduction strategies, and needle exchange programs. These strategies help reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use, including overdose, infectious disease transmission, Hepatitis C, etc.

Dr. Marsan concluded her speech by touching on the negative stigmas when it comes to substance abuse and addictions. She spoke about the shame and embarrassment individuals may feel when they are actively using substances or seeking treatment. Dr. Marsan said, “What we need to do is not isolate people, we need to actually bring them love, we need to give them attention,” which resulted in applause from the audience.

Listuguj Community Social Services began their portion of speeches with Director, Tanya Barnaby. She addressed the wellness issues in the community. “First Nations health and wellness is gravely affected by historical and cultural specific factors that include, but are not limited to, the loss of language, the connectedness to the land, residential school abuses, systemic racism, environmental destruction, cultural, spiritual, emotional and mental disconnectedness,” said Barnaby,

Cultural Coordinator Christine Metallic spoke about her time working as a crisis worker in Montreal. She talked about the grieving process, personal growth, and how important it is to break the silence to help cope with pain.

Addictions Counsellor Michael Martin told the audience about a new program he will be offering at the Listuguj Community Social Services Directorate in the future. The program is called, “Living in Balance” and has been created to educate families on addictions and culture. This will be a 27-part program and the time/date will be determined later.

Director of Public Security, Peter Arsenault took the podium and spoke about the Bylaw Enforcement program and the role that the Listuguj Police Department, Fire Department, and Listuguj Rangers play when it comes to wellness in the community.

Victim Specialist, Kali Barnaby wrapped up day one of the symposium with a thorough presentation on the correlation between domestic violence and substance abuse. She presented statistics on the domestic and sexual violence impacts in Listuguj in 2022 and 2023. She spoke about the importance of victims being able to come forward and express themselves. Barnaby said, “I wanted to serve my community. I’m doing my dream job now, working with the police and helping victims break the silence, encouraging their voices to come forward and speak up on what they’ve been through, or what their friends have been through. Lift that heavy weight that they all have on their shoulders.”

Day two of the symposium kicked off with a presentation from Melissa Bryan and Mitchell Syvret-Caplin of Mawiomi Treatment Center. They spoke about the seven-bed facility in Gesgapegiag, that offers 6-7 weeks of treatment for individuals battling substance issues and abuse. As of Fall 2023, Listuguj now has a local Outreach Coordinator for Mawiomi Treatment Center, Jenn Isaac.  The Center incorporates both clinical and cultural workshops and offers pre-treatment and aftercare services. Bryan mentioned that the Center is looking to expand its services into detox in the future. When it comes to addiction, Bryan said, “I heard a saying once that the opposite of addiction is connection. So how do we get people reconnected? Reconnected to their families, reconnected to their roles and responsibilities. I think that’s ultimately what we have to do.”

Listuguj’s Codey Martin is an Addictions and Mental Health Counsellor and resides in Kahnawake, QC. He gave a powerful presentation on cultural and ceremonial components when it comes to wellness, and how it is important to have a positive relationship with yourself when it comes to grief and trauma. He talked about how colonization continues to affect Indigenous communities, and how there is still a lot of grief work to do. Martin said, “The real journey of wellness begins with ourselves.”

Listuguj’s Treaty Education Experiential Learning Lead, Patrick Wilmot did a rope exercise with the audience. The exercise symbolized the importance of communication, and what it looks like literally and figuratively.

Michael Isaac is the Director of Education, and he spoke on education’s role and responsibility in the community when it comes to wellness. He touched on the learning environment at Alaqsite’w Gitpu School, safe classrooms, traditional and healthy lifestyles, and how the main role of education is prevention.

The last presentation of the day was done by Treaty Education Lead, Jacob Gale. He said, “Treaty Education is who we are as l’nu, our culture, our language, our communities, our families our ceremonies.” He spoke about various activities and events that Treaty Education holds that promote social and emotional well-being for students. He shared photos from Culture Days at Alaqsite’w Gitpu School, which recently consisted of a moose calling contest and Ko’jua contest. Treaty Education is about promoting culture and instilling teachings on strong cultural identities in students.

This was the second event held by the Listuguj Wellness Renewal Initiative. Please keep an eye out for future events and activities held by the LWRI.

Our Journey to a Healthier Community Starts Here.

By Ann Marie Jacques

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