Made on Haida Gwaii: Men, mentors and mental health

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Photo credit: Patrick Shannon

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This week we resume our 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. This series of articles, which we first featured throughout 2012, showcases the stories of talented young person who call Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada's North. Watch for new installments of Made in Haida Gwaii coming this week and later in July.

"We breed a different kind of young people," replies Alan Lore, a response to the question if growing up on Haida Gwaii limits opportunity for young people. He goes on to explain, "It's a special place for a special people. Lots of the kids who are born here will leave and never come back. But for the ones that do come back, they will understand what makes this place a little bit different."

Alan, who grew up on the islands, attended the College of New Caledonia and the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. He now works with the Haida Family and Child Services Society (HFCSS) to counsel and mentor island youth.

His passion for this work stems from the positive impact that local role models had on him while growing up. "I'd like to be one of those people who has a huge impact on a kid's life," he says, "When they look back when they're 20, 30, and 40, I want to be one of those people where they're like 'man, I'm glad that guy was there.' "

When asked what he's working on now, Alan replies, "I'm working on everything right now." And he's right. In addition to working with HFCSS he's organizing rugby twice a week for the Haida Gwaii Rec After School Sport Initiative, operating a seven-bed hostel in the heart of Port Clements, developing an outdoors camp concept for island youth, and somehow amongst all of this, still finds time to play soccer and go surfing.

Alan wears many hats in the community, which he admits can have repercussions, both good and bad, in small communities. When working on Haida Gwaii, "Your social life and your work life are the same thing. Your family life, it's the same thing. And that's a very interesting aspect," he says. "If you're a good person, people will see that in everything that you do. If you're a bad person people will see that in everything that you do."

Perhaps young people in small communities are held to a higher standard, given the number of social contracts they're pressured to fulfill, from their professional, family, and peer circles.

An example of this lies close to home for Alan. Working with youth has shifted the way in which he lives his life. "I definitely have a different lifestyle than when I was attending university," he says, "I feel that I have to be a role model a lot more…That's a good side about working this job. You have to think about how everyone is viewing you and what you're doing and what shape you're in."

This is an important message to hear, especially here where alcoholism and substance abuse is high and its effects multiplied in a small-knit community.

"More young people here need not to be on the boozes," says Alan. "It's not really helping anybody and the kids need to see that it's not OK. You know, find some anti-drug. Start doing sports, start hiking, start writing, start singing, whatever, just find other things to do," he says.

Alan envisions a future where more is invested in mental health and wellness for youth. He would like to continue working with youth and thinks that bridging the fields of mental health, sustainability and skills-based training would be an interesting way to achieve this.

Alan also advocates for men's mental wellness. "There's a piece of me that is pulling me towards helping men, there's a problem here with violence and alcoholism and substance abuse with young and old men alike," he says. In the North, general mental health programming is lacking. This means that men's specific mental health services are limited and in most cases, completely absent. "There's no men's centre here," says Alan, "I could see a men's centre being very useful here."

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April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North.

Photo credit: Patrick Shannon

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