Vol. 80, No. 4Cover stories

An Indigenous male drummer performs as others watch.

Officer delivers message of hope to youth

Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams performs a journey song during a break in the Hope in the Darkness walk. Credit: Lauren Hutchison, Tsawwassen First Nation


Sgt. Kevin Redsky walked from Newfoundland to Winnipeg this summer to spark change in the way police respond to young people who are suffering with mental health issues.

The Anishinabek Police Service member left Cape Spear, N.L., on April 1, 2018, on the walk called Hope in the Darkness.

"There's a lack of knowledge out there about mental health," says Redsky, during a pause in his walk near Blind River, Ont. — about 140 kilometres east of Sault St. Marie. "We're the first on the scene and we're witnessing youth in crisis. We're the ones who are required to make immediate decisions for the well-being of those youth."

A 2017 report from the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs says Indigenous peoples in Canada experience disproportionally high rates of suicide. The federal government reports that suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth.

"We do have to challenge the current system because it's unacceptable how many young people we're losing to suicide," says Redsky, who struggled with mental health as a young man and lost a niece to suicide. "Some young people on the walk said we needed help yesterday, not four months from now."

A second team of officers, headed by Senior Cst. Bob Campbell, of the Anishinabek Police Service, left Masset, B.C., in mid-May. The two groups — who have also been talking to young people along their routes — were scheduled to meet in Winnipeg on August 3, 2018.

Sukhpreet Dhillon of the RCMP's Indigenous Policing Service in B.C., participated in a portion of the trek from Tsawwassen to White Rock, B.C. This portion also involved Delta Police Services, Deas Island Traffic Services and an officer from the RCMP First Nations Policing Program in Surrey.

"When you do something like this it pulls down boundaries and you get to have conversations with other people and build relationships," says Dhillon. "It was empowering to hear people talk about the challenges they faced, how they've overcome them and how they want to help the kids."

The information gathered from young people, police officers, mental-health service providers and communities along the way will be compiled into a report. It will be made available to police services and agencies interested in learning more about the issue, says Redsky.

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