Event organizers, Karen Jacobs and husband Jeff Jacobs, walk alongside of a group of Grandmothers that call themselves “The Grannies with Wings”, in hopes to raise greater awareness and help for First Nation children affected by mental health and related issues.

By Leslie Knibbs

SERPENT RIVER FIRST NATION—A group of Grandmothers calling themselves the “Grannies with wings” along with others, began a walk to Ottawa in hope of getting more help for First Nation children affected by mental health and related issues.

Prompted by the inadequate care and attention given to her youngest daughter, Ayasha among other youth, Grandmother Karen Jacobs of Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) and three others took it upon themselves to begin the walk on-route for Ottawa to raise awareness for those requiring mental health assistance to improve their daily lives.

The walk, which commenced on April 3, was temporarily halted in Lively on April 7, due to inclement weather. The walk resumed in Lively on Tuesday, April 18, with a changed itinerary. The walk will first head to Toronto then onward to Ottawa.  Plans for a gathering at the Ontario Provincial Board of Education in Toronto is in the works.

Karen Jacobs, a grandmother of 11, lovingly adopted two-year-old Ayasha into the Jacobs family six years ago.

Karen and husband Jeff soon began to notice Ayasha had difficulties dealing with everyday occurrences.  Simple things like filling a tub when preparing a bath for the little girl caused Ayasha to have what Karen calls a meltdown or uncontrollable outbursts.

“She was terrified when she heard the tap running,” recalled Jacobs.  “As the years went by, little things like the scanning of a purchased item in a store would set her off.”

Bus rides to and from school, resulted in additional incidents of anxiety for Ayasha resulting in outbursts. Attending school presented further problems for Ayasha.  Since starting school, Ayasha has attended in Blind River and Elliot Lake, both requiring early morning bus trips.

Prior to starting school, the Jacobs desperately wanted to get their daughter the necessary help and find the cause of her issues. The parents, suspecting Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), arranged for a FASD diagnosis in Sault Ste. Marie when Ayasha was four. The resulting diagnosis was inconclusive; however, according to Karen and Jeff, they were told “Ayasha showed great signs of FASD.”  A recommendation was made to have their daughter tested at a later date. Following up on the recommendation, the parents recently arranged for a diagnosis in Sudbury. Once again, the results came back inconclusive. Suggestions were made that the now eight-year-old Ayasha has ADHD and other issues affecting her mental health. Both Jeff and Karen remain convinced that their daughter is dealing with FASD.

Like many others, Jeff is faced with the legacy of Residential Schools and the resulting intergenerational negative effects.  At 56, he is a father and grandfather operating a successful business alongside his wife, Karen. As a child growing up, he dealt with being centered out for what others considered inappropriate behavior, not unlike his youngest daughter Ayasha.

“I am convinced without a doubt I have FASD,” he said.

He pointed out that one of the Grandmothers on the walk was recently diagnosed with FASD.  She is 49-years-old. Next month, Jeff will undergo a diagnosis for FASD, a condition he has suspected he’s had all his life.

“There is a whole generation of us suffering with this,” states Jacobs.

Jeff points to parents and grandparents that suffered the brunt of Residential Schools who turned to drinking as a mechanism to cope with the bad memories and trauma.

Both Ayasha and Jeff, along with many others have been dealt a bad hand through no fault of their own. In Jeff’s case, many past incidents with law enforcement have resulted in him being flagged by local police resulting in, according to him, many routine traffic stops in the small community with several police attending. Although Jeff is not happy with this unwanted attention, he deals with it. In an effort to ‘still the waters’ when dealing with local police, he is hopeful a positive diagnosis for FASD and the wearing of a FASD bracelet will make things easier for everyone.

In Ayasha’s case, there is a particularly more acute sense of sadness.

This past Christmas, all of the children in her class at Central Avenue Public School in Elliot Lake were looking forward to a trip to the local high school to visit with Santa. Excited at the prospect of this meeting with Santa, Karen marked the date on their calendar at home. Mother and daughter began counting down the days. On the day of the trip, the school decided that Ayasha would not be going. According to Karen, the school’s reason was they feared she would have a ‘meltdown’ and disrupt the event for everyone. One little girl from SRFN was very sad and upset on what was to be a very special day for her, according to parents Jeff and Karen.

The Grandmothers are encouraging others to join them in their walk to Toronto. Karen can be texted at 705-849-8751 by anyone wishing to participate.

Those making the walk from SRFN include Grandmothers Laure Simpson and Donna Grenier as well as Karen’s daughter Rachel, and granddaughter McKenzie.