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ILSA Sessions: Avis O’Brien is helping Indigenous youth overcome generational trauma

Content warning: Suicide and self-harm


N'alag̱a / Ḵ'áw kuuna (Avis O’Brien), is a cedar bark weaving artist and Land Based Cultural Empowerment Facilitator belonging to the Kawaas Sdaast.aas Eagle Clan from the Village of K’yuusda in Haida Gwaii and the Gigəlǧəm n̓əm̓ina sa Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ people of Cape Mudge, one of the 18 Tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw.


Avis has lived with the spirit of self-harm and suicide since the age of 10, a reflection of the staggering statistics affecting Indigenous people at a rate three times higher than non-Indigenous populations, with greater disparities seen among youth and young adults.


With a focus on decolonization, reconciliation, Indigenous land based healing, breath and embodiment practices, Avis launched Nalaga Consulting in 2013 as a way of sharing her traditional healing practices with a broader community. She offers several workshops including cedar bark weaving and addiction relapse prevention, with a new focus on youth suicide intervention.

“Suicidality is a natural human response to carrying the burdens of 500 years of attempted and ongoing colonial genocide against Indigenous peoples,” Avis said in a recent video series produced for ILSA. “Suicidality is not a reflection of something that is broken within the individual but a reflection of the brokenness of these invisible interlocking systems of oppression that are driving the world.”


VIDEO 1: Social Justice Lens

Nalaga Consulting’s latest program, called ɫokʷimas (“You Are Strong”), creates a safe space for youth to reconnect with themselves, their families, their communities, their identities, and the land. The restoration of balance between the mind, body, and spirit is nurtured through ancestral forms of healing including drumming, singing, medicine harvesting, ceremony, and weaving which are powerful self-regulation tools that promote neurodecolonization.


VIDEO 2: What was there prior to that systemic separation?

ɫokʷimas will be offered as a 10-week cohort and a one-day five-hour intensive workshop, drawing heavily on the works of Vikki Reynolds and Riel Dupuis-Rossi. While other suicide preventation programs often prioritize tools for talking to folks who are struggling with self-harm and suicide, ɫokʷimas is a direct interventation that teaches skills and alternatives to mitigating the suicidal spirit and introduces alternative actions and behaviours that can be implemented in times of crisis.


Prior to the systemic separation of Indigenous people from our cultures, our ancestors had healthy connections and balance that were maintained by engaging our Indigenous land based contemplative spiritual practices, singing our songs, dancing our dances, praying in our ceremonies, and being on the land. We can regulate our nervous systems by incorporating these practices back into our lives.


Video 3: Solidarity Circle

“Staying alive is an act of resistance to the attempted and ongoing colonial genocide that we experience as Indigenous people,” said Avis.

You belong to the land, to the creator, to your family, to your community.

You belong and you matter.


If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suidice, please reach out to a safe contact who you trust in times of crisis. You can also contact these free services:

Hope for Wellness Helpline call 1-855-242-3310

Crisis Text Line text HOME to 686868

Kids Help Phone call 1-800-668-6868

Canada Suidice Prevention Services call 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645

ILSA Sessions is a blog series devoted to highlighting community members who are supporting the physical and mental success of Indigenous youth.

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