THUNDER BAY – Long Lake #58’s Autumn Longpeter-Esquega wants to “get into art” after her photography was featured at the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy’s Life Promotion Youth Showcase.
“I just really love taking pictures,” says Longpeter-Esquega, one of about 171 First Nations youth who participated in six safeTALK suicide prevention training and photovoice sessions since 2012 through NAYSPS’s Life Promotion Strategy. “It is an easy way for me to express my feelings, and also the suicide prevention — that part of the workshop — meant a lot to me because I lost my dad to suicide when I was really young.”
Longpeter-Esquega says the three-hour safeTALK suicide prevention training session helped her to deal with her father’s suicide.
“I recently found my inner peace,” Longpeter-Esquega says. “I just live to the fullest every day.”
Longpeter-Esquega wants to be a social worker in the future to help prevent suicide. But for now, she just wants to take photographs every day.
“I have one picture (in the Life Promotion Youth Showcase) and it’s called Get Away Hero,” Longpeter-Esquega says. “The top half of the picture is nature. Nature just keeps me calm and it makes me feel free because it’s like starting fresh — fresh air. The other half of the picture is R.I.P. — Rest In Peace for my father. It just contributes to both parts of the workshop; I like it.”
Longpeter-Esquega says the images in her photograph were already on the rock face before she composed and shot the photograph.
In addition to Longpeter-Esquega’s photograph, the Life Promotion Youth Showcase also featured the work of Magnetawan’s Daniella Smith, Animbiigoo Zaagiigan Anishinaabek’s Janelle Goodman, Constance Lake’s Dawson Baxter, Wahgoshig’s Dannah Ellison and a number of other photographers.
“The Life Promotion project is the most innovative, progressive, inclusive and effective suicide prevention project ever in Canada,” said Scott Chisholm, lead facilitator of the Photovoice Life Promotion Project.
Administered by Nishnawbe Aski Nation in collaboration with the Union of Ontario Indians, the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Chiefs of Ontario and the Ontario First Nations Young People’s Council, the Life Promotion Strategy received support from Health Canada. The three-year pilot project was designed to build resiliency among youth from 96 First Nations communities across the province while also providing them with an opportunity to express themselves in a creative manner.
“This project has been very empowering, not only for the young people but also for our team,” says Esther McKay, NAN’s life promotion coordinator. “The title — Life Promotion — came from the young people because they wanted something more positive, more inspiring for them to work towards.”
McKay says the project included the training of 98 community support workers from First Nation communities as safeTALK train-the-trainers as well as the production of two web-based public service announcements, which are available on the NAN website.
“We’ve been working towards fighting that stigma that suicide brings in our communities,” McKay says. “It is important that we start opening our doors allowing young people to feel safe in their own communities and feel that support, not just from their peers but also from the community support workers.”
The photos were exhibited at the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery in Thunder Bay on the evening of Feb. 18 before being shipped to other locations across Ontario for exhibition.
“It’s been an amazing experience and I’m still taking it with me,” Longpeter-Esquega says.