Keep looking for the positive: Westbank First Nation on Mental Health Week

The nation’s in-person mental health supports have been cancelled, but have since been adapted for online

The Westbank First Nation (WFN) council is working hard to let the community know help is available when it comes to their mental well-being.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and with so many gatherings cancelled, WFN councillor Jordan Coble started sharing stories of resilience through traditional Okanagan narratives in English and Syilx via video.

Every week during May, the WFN council will share videos of traditional and personal stories of how they overcame mental health struggles.

“Since the very beginning, we’ve had a plan for initiatives to roll out not just from council but also our community services. Our community services lined up a series of programs that were supposed to take place this month but because of the pandemic, almost everything had to get cancelled,” Coble said.

“Our culture is strongly based on gathering and bringing people together through large feasts and all these types of settings… those, unfortunately, had to get cancelled but we didn’t want May to go by the wayside.”

WFN already publishes a regular series of information videos for the community, which Coble said they decided to use to keep the conversations about mental health continue even when they couldn’t gather physically.

“We wanted to keep leading by example. We wanted to show that no matter who you are, no matter what position you hold or wherever you are in your life or whatever you’re going through, we all go through (mental health) issues. Sometimes they’re diagnosed, sometimes they’re not but we can’t just brush them off as if they’re nothing. It’s important to feel comfortable to talk about that.”

Coble said it’s important to tell stories of resilience using traditional Okanagan legends because it helps people connect to their culture and language, which can help them find healing. It also encourages younger generations that they will get through these difficult times.

“A lot of the things we go through these days, our ancestors have already gone through. Pandemics aren’t new to our nations, unfortunately. Some stories go along with this experience. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we just need to figure out what our ancestors did, understand it, and adjust accordingly.”

The most important thing to do during the pandemic is to keep looking for the positive things, Coble said.

“It’s about keeping your mind active so you don’t get into that trap where you start to dwell on things and generate that ball of negative energy. I encourage people to encourage the good that’s come from all this: the health of the land is coming back, the health of the water is coming back and the unity between communities,” he said.

“Try to stay focused on those positives. If you continue to look for negative things, that’s what you’ll find. But if you look for the positive, that’s what you’ll uncover.”

READ MORE: Create meaningful connections as pandemic continues: CMHA Kelowna

READ MORE: B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
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