Youth pre-conference attracts delegates

The World Health Organization’s safe communities conference actually kicked off Monday with a pre-conference at Couchiching First Nation aimed at youth.
More than 100 delegates aged 14-29 from Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, and even as far away as Norway attended the all-day event, which featured guest speakers and discussion sessions.
The discussion themes for the day included youth depression, sports injuries, and violence. Concurrent sessions on these issues were held in between presentations by keynote speakers Jesse Terry, Ted Nolan, and the Madigans.
Toronto psychotherapist J.J. Witherspoon, daughter of Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, moderated a discussion on adolescent suicide in high-risk groups.
She noted 50 percent of youth suicides involve lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth, and that First Nations youth are three-four times more likely to die a violent death.
LGB First Nations young people, also known as “two-spirited” youths, often arrive in urban centres with no marketable skills and are at risk for a greater lifetime prevalence and earlier age onset for substance abuse, with ages 10-13 being the greatest risk period.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) also has reached epidemic proportions in First Nations communities, Witherspoon added, and 70 percent of First Nation teens smoke regularly.
After the bleak statistics at the beginning of the discussion, Witherspoon discussed the importance of recognizing and celebrating diversity.
“They start internalizing all these [negative] stereotypes and acting out,” she said, adding the media can give a pretty skewed outlook on reality.
“That’s what we’re bombarded with,” she argued.
Witherspoon then opened the floor to questions and said that was when things became lively.
“The question-and-answer went well,” she said. “They asked if I lost friends when I came out.”
The youth also talked about ways to prevent violence, youth depression, and sports injuries. Delegates agreed youths can prevent problems with safety prevention programs, education, school campaigns, talking to family and friends, and teacher involvement.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said youth delegate Stephanie Buckshot.
The last presenters of the day were Jerry and Julian Madigan, originally from Dublin, Ireland, who now reside in Calgary.
Jerry Madigan, the father, was a banker and musician who now devotes his time to speaking to audiences around the world to offer anecdotes and advice on how he helped his son, Julian, kick drugs.
“Julian was the last person I ever thought would get involved in drugs,” he said, noting his son was a champion swimmer and runner before he became involved in the rave culture and the world of drugs when he was 15.
Through support from family and friends, he kicked drugs in 1996 and the father-and-son duo estimate they’ve spoken to more than one million people since then.