Kelly Paul’s Heliset Hále Marathon journey, which wraps up today at Tsartlip First Nation, really started about four and a half years ago, when Paul’s 17-year-old brother, Isaac Paul, took his own life.
“I just wished, I never ever wanted anybody else to go through this or see this happen to them,” Paul said. “We’re just trying to create other support systems, to let people know what’s out there for them, that they’re not along going through this. …
“I do believe he goes with us everywhere we go. Same with our ancestors. They’re our strengths and support.”
The Heliset Hale Marathon has Paul along with fellow Tsartlip member Bernice Smith, and John Sampson of the Tsawout First Nation, running from tip to tip of Vancouver Island.
The three runners headed out from Port Hardy on May 18, running from community to community, stopping to talk to First Nations reservations and various schools about the purpose behind their trip. They have been averaging about 15 to 27 kilometres per day.
“It’s a long road,” said Sampson.
The run is to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to bring up a topic the participants believe isn’t discussed enough.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age, according to a Health Canada study from 2003. The rate for First Nations males is 126 per 100,000 people, compared to 24 per 100,000 people for non-Aboriginal males.
“Suicide has been kind of a quiet thing, we haven’t spoken about it too much in our communities,” Sampson said. “It’s kind of pushed under the carpet.”
“It’s a healing journey for me, but it’s also a healing journey for many other people, so they’re wanting somehow just to be connected to this,” Paul said. “It’s been a great response from everyone.”
The group arrived in the West Shore on Tuesday, by canoe at Goldstream Boathouse, due to safety concerns about running over the Malahat.
From the marina, the crew received a police escort to West Shore Parkway, where they once again took to the road to run to Songhees First Nation. A community run for the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations took place later in the day.
The paddle to Goldstream gave the group a chance to catch up with family and friends.
Tsartlip Chief Ivan Wayne Morris had even more reason to take part. His 26-year-old son, Wayne Morris, Jr., committed suicide just under two years ago.
“My family is all real enthused to be here and just be a part of it, have some kind of comfort in what this journey’s all about,” Morris said.
He said through his role as Chief he has seen how widespread the problem of suicide in First Nations communities is, and how much need there is for help and healing.
“We need to come together to find some solution to address that, because questions are in my mind yet, as to what happened. I have no answers,” Morris said. “The only way I would’ve got some answers is to talk to my son, and I can’t do that. That’s a hard thing for all of us. That’s why we’re taking part.”
Some recommended websites for those dealing with mental health problems are yourlifecounts.org and cmha.ca. The contact number for the Pacific Region First Nations and Inuit Health is 1-866-225-0709, toll free.