‘Letting their voices be heard, and letting healing happen’

Métis Nation B.C. creates space for Métis involvement in mental wellness programs.

Hailey Howse is one of nine Métis facilitators implementing a Métis-focus to an existing mental health and wellness program.

“Stifling people’s experiences is stifling their healing,” Howse says. 

“Living Life to the Full” is an eight-week mental health and wellness program, offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). As of March 13, Métis-specific programming will now be offered and delivered by a Métis facilitation team. 

The facilitators completed the CMHA training on February 17. In the course, Howse says she learned how to create a space for mental health and wellness programs — where Métis people can “let their voices be heard, and let the healing happen.” 

Howse is also a psychology student at the University of Victoria.

She says she sees a growing openness towards talking about mental health, and less stigma.

“I like to think that those perspectives are changing because mental health is being talked about much more wisely,” says Howse. 

Jillian Jones is the provincial mental health coordinator for Métis Nation British Columbia’s (MNBC) Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction. She says COVID-19 increased peoples’ need for support. 

MNBC provides programs and services for the nearly 90,000 Métis people living in B.C.  The organization defines Métis as “a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal groups, is of Métis Nation Ancestry, and who is accepted by the Métis Nation,” and requires documentation of genealogy and registry for citizenship.

Jones says MNBC saw a need for providing mental health supports with a cultural safety lens. COVID-19  increased both the need for support, and the need for online delivery. MNBC reached out to CMHA to collaborate on a Métis-focused version of their existing “Living life to the full” program.  

Five cohorts will be running at different times, meeting for 90 minutes, once per week. MNBC says following the completion of the eight-week courses, MNBC will begin a focus group of facilitators, and advisory committee sessions.  

They will start working on the Métis-focused adaptation, to reorient the program to increase cultural lens for and by the Métis community. That work is planned to begin at the end of April or early May, she says. 

“We’re coming together with others during a time of really increased heightened isolation,” says Jones. 

She says the program doesn’t intend to be a therapeutic intervention, but an opportunity to learn and practice skills for mental well-being. 

The program sets out to “foster coping skills and learn techniques to employ in their day-to-day lives, to bolster and foster their own mental wellness,” says Jones. 

The program rests on a foundation of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which Howse says means using learning tools to recognize distorted thought patterns, and adjusting those narratives to shift perceptions and behaviour.  

“There’s two elements to it. The cognitive part kind of refers to how we think of our interpretations of situations, our perceptions of things,” Howse explains. “We teach techniques that work to kind of alter those beliefs and kind of replace [them with] more helpful or positive beliefs. And then that will in turn lead to more positive and helpful functioning behaviour.” 

Bringing people together

The program recognizes a distinctions-based approach, honouring and recognizing the uniqueness of the Métis culture and community, says Jones. 

MNBC’s Ministry of Mental Health embraces the concept of Métis distinct cultural identity and how it can be used as a special connection and dynamic to better understand and work together on health and wellness.

Jones has observed in other programs and events that there is a special connection made when Métis gather, sharing common ground.

“We’re bringing individuals together across the province. It’s just the strength in creating Métis community and allowing individuals to connect with one another,” says Jones. 

“The context of ‘living life to the full’ is really great and making good tools for folks, but I think a lot of the strengths is really going to lie in the fact that this is for Métis participants and delivered by Métis facilitators, coming together.” 

Howse agrees. 

“There’s still such a strong, resilient force behind a lot of Métis people saying that they still identify with their culture, even if they’re kind of disconnected — they’re searching to become more connected. I think there’s a lot of strength in that,” says Howse. 

The diversity within the Métis community is another strength Howse is anticipating in the Métis cohorts. 

Métis mental health
Hailey Howse is a UVic psychology student and CMHA trained facilitator. Photo by Emilee Gilpin

“I think there’s strength in diversity because you know, when there’s so many different perspectives and so many different voices to be heard, you get such a richer picture of what people’s lived experiences really look like,” Howse says.

Jones says she has heard about a clear need to avoid pan-Indigenous approaches, as she steers towards honouring Métis identity in her program development. This includes developing policies to address cultural safety and inclusion within mental health, she says. 

“When things kind of take a pan-Indigenous approach, Métis representation or voice can sometimes be lost in that,” Jones says. 

“We hear about this historical disconnect from culture as a result of colonization and experiences faced by Indigenous people by the historical and ongoing colonization. We’ve heard from a lot of Métis individuals that kind of disconnect from the culture, that feeling of being forced to kind of hide your Métis identity.”

“A lot of us agreed that we felt that kind of displacement,” says Howse. “Where do I fit in?

So the fact that more people are wanting to come together and kind of unite in their Métis identity. I think that’s a really special thing.”

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