By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO – It was the helicopter hovering over her head that changed Ocean Bell’s life.
Just 13 at the time, she was running away from home and staying at a friend’s place on Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve when she awoke to the sound of the helicopter.
“I can still feel the scared-ness that I felt that day, says Bell, now 18, and an award-winning youth mentor. “ You could just see that helicopter going round and round and round.
“I saw all the cop cars, and I ran out the back door. I tried to walk away like nothing happened. But the helicopter just came over me and said, ‘Ocean Bell! Stop right there!’
“At that moment in time, I thought, I need to change my life,” says Bell, who’d started drinking alcohol and smoking pot at age 11 and had moved into pharmaceuticals like Oxycontin.
After the police picked her up, Bell showed a maturity far beyond her age, telling her mother, “Okay, I want to go to a treatment centre,” and entering a one-year residential program.
“I worked on things like anger management, understanding why things had happened to me. I started looking at life in a different way,” says Bell, who resumed her high school studies at the treatment centre and is now just one credit shy of her diploma.
“It just felt amazing to be sober and to keep moving forward, and after that, I just wanted to heal,” she says. “And I wanted to heal with other people.” When she was 15, Bell and her mother moved to Toronto.
At an April 10th gala she was recognized for her work as a Youth Mentor, receiving the Minaake Youth Challenger Award from the Native Women’s Resource Centre. She delivers arts-based HIV/AIDS workshops and teaches young people about healthy sexuality for the Central Toronto Community Health Centre.
In Ojibwe, Minaake means ‘people who are walking a good path.’ Along with Bell, five other Aboriginal women received awards.
“I was honoured and I felt really appreciated,” she says, “and happy that people had seen and acknowledged my progress in life.”
Since she’s been in Toronto, Ocean has come out as two-spirited. She feels it’s the giving and receiving of love that’s important, not the gender of your partner.
She wants to study community development at George Brown College, but her ultimate dream is to be a psychologist. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication but I think I’ve got that.”
She loves working with youth.
“They’re amazing, and their stories are unique. I want to give them my knowledge and be there for them.”
She encourages them to follow their dreams by, “thinking outside of the box and take little steps. Set little goals. It’ll become your way of life and those goals will get bigger and bigger. That’s how it is for me right now.”