“when I look at the young people, I see sadness. No help. They don’t even talk about it, so they turn to (taking) their own lives away.”– Heather Sayazie
It’s been a challenging, but rewarding ride for about 30 youth from Black Lake First Nation who are cycling 1500 kilometres in hopes of slowing alarming suicide rates.
The youth and their chaperones are travelling from their community in northern Saskatchewan to Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta.
The trip began on June 21, the summer solstice—a sacred day to Indigenous people.
Thirteen days and 907 kilometres later, a white van sporting Canada flags crossed the Diefenbaker bridge in Prince Albert. Behind was a trail of bikers in reflective gear, waving and cheering as they reached Thursday’s destination.
According to chaperone Janella Boneleye, the initiative is not only to spread awareness, but for healing among the cyclists themselves.
“We didn’t realize they had suicidal thoughts and now they’re expressing their feelings and telling us what’s been bothering them,” she said.
“We’re helping the youth when they’re grieving or when they’re feeling so down. Because at first, when we started this journey, there was some bullying, kids putting each other down.”
Boneleye said the dynamic has completely changed.
They’ve been doing sharing circles every morning before they take off and every night before bedtime. In the morning, they gather to remember the purpose of their travels. In the evening, they reflect on the day and what they’ve accomplished.
On Wednesday, where they spent the evening camped in Northside, the youth experienced a sweat lodge with the help of elder and band councillor John Toutsaint.
“Thanks to our elder explaining what a sweat lodge is and how it heals and cleans your soul, that’s one of the experiences they had and they had a good night sleep after that because that sweat lodge, the temperature is really hot in there,” she explained.
Toutsaint and another band councillor, Trevor Boneleye, are travelling with the group.
The youth are cycling hours every day, being sure to take rest days and breaks along the way.
Heather Sayazie, 25, is one of the eldest in the group of cyclists.
“This journey’s kind of hard, but it gets emotional every time we bike for nine hours and it’s also for suicide prevention and to stop alcohol and drugs to make people think around my hometown because there’s a lot of suicides,” she said, saying she’s dealt with these issues herself.
“I struggle with myself, and when I look at the young people, I see sadness. No help. They don’t even talk about it, so they turn to (taking) their own lives away.”
The community of Black Lake saw roughly 30 suicide attempts in seven weeks in late 2016 and early 2017, which is about when their annual bike-a-thon began. This is its third year.
For Sayazie, suicide and addictions means “no hope, no energy. It means so much.”
“We can be all strong together.”
Boneyele’s message for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is that there’s always someone to help, which is something she hopes the group is getting across.
“If you reach out, there are some people that can hear you and share with you what they experience and how they overcome suicidal thoughts,” she said.
The cyclists are resting in Prince Albert for two days before they continue. They have about nine more days until they reach Lac Ste. Anne.