Tribal Council starts grieving circles in Fort Chipewyan

Tribal Council starts grieving circles in Fort Chipewyan
Loss and grieving circles are happening in Fort Chipewyan following a number of deaths in the community, including two suicides since December.File photo.

Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) members in Fort Chipewyan have partnered up with other community organizations to deliver a new series of grief and loss workshops with residents, in an effort to provide more mental health supports to those who need it most.

The first of the new programming was delivered on July 21 and 22 at the Athabasca Delta Community School.

We just want people in the community to feel that they’re not alone; you can reach out.
—  Margo Vermillion, Athabasca Tribal Council

“People have identified that was something required in the community, the loss and grief workshop, and it was well attended by the people that require it,” said Margo Vermillion, one of the co-facilitators and a child and family services worker with ATC.

“Loss and grief is not just losing a loved one, it could be anything,” Vermillion said. “It gives a chance for people to share and to talk about it because a lot of times when you have people talking about things that have been buried so far deep inside of you and then all of a sudden there’s things that trigger you.

“Being able to share amongst one another, being able to know that you’re not the only one that is grieving a loss – it’s that sharing, that connecting with one another, and being able to hold hands in a circle, to be able to understand where everybody is coming from and knowing that, hey, I’m not the only one in the community that’s grieving.”

The certified facilitators included Margaret Roper from ATC, Hilda Lepine, co-facilitator Margo Vermillion and the Nunee Wellness Team.

While the subject matter could sometimes be dark, especially during the sharing circles, organizers tried to keep the mood light for the most part.

“We did a sharing circle, talking about the loss and the grief that people are going through, experiencing,” Vermillion said. “We also did hands-on activities, made picture frames for our loved ones. We did a ribbon-tying event with our participants and we did smudging; we shared, we talked, we laughed.”

The events are free and open to anyone who wants to participate.

Though they were scheduled several months ago, the workshops began shortly after a teenaged girl in the community recently died from suicide, the second to do so since December 2014.

The workshops are only the latest in a string of community support events, created to boost community morale and promote healing for residents.

After what was deemed a successful first event, community representatives spent Monday planning their next series of workshops, which are set to take place in September.

“We invited community people, different organizations, to sit around the table,” Vermillion said. “The last time we did that we did a walk in the community before the children left the school for the summer so we had the kids involved, we had parents involved, we had some of the leadership and we had noisemakers and we had signs.”

One of those upcoming workshops will cater specifically to the needs of parents.

“It’s trying to help parents to grieve as well so they can also be able to understand their children, their youth. Parents are always the first support that children require, so if you have healthy parents that are able to grieve, then you know it’s easier for you to support your child,” Vermillion said.

“We just want people in the community to feel that they’re not alone; you can reach out,” Vermillion said. “We want people in the community to know that we’re also concerned about the youth and the children and we want the community to know that there is support. Come and let us know what other things we can do.”

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