Earlier this term First Nations student Lisa Kenoras celebrated a mental wellness milestone on her life journey.
While it was a normal day for the majority of students on campus, October 24 was a special reminder to Kenoras. The days were dark leading up to October 24, 2017, when the Shuswap Nation member was caught up in a negative cycle.
“I was coming off a bender. It was something I started in Enderby and I somehow ended up in Chase five days later. I made it back to campus after only having about two hours sleep the night before,” recalls a sober Kenoras. “I came into the Aboriginal Centre and it was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Through the haze, she remembered words of encouragement from her Education Coordinator Diane Anthony to connect with Aboriginal Programs & Services staff if she needed additional support. Upon entering a staff member’s office, tears came quickly as Kenoras approached those crucial crossroads which many Indigenous people face.
It was recommended the student reach out to her education coordinator and provide an update on academic challenges from missing class. Despite being initially reluctant to provide Anthony with a full disclosure of her situation, at the end of their conversation Kenoras came clean about the challenges she was facing. Without missing a beat, Anthony provided support in the form of connecting her student to the band’s drug and alcohol counsellor. The education coordinator immediately opened the door for her student to take part in Choices – a mental wellness training program which is extremely popular among many Indigenous communities.
“We’ve had a lot of (band) members go through it and you see changes in their attitude and perspective on life,” said Anthony of the Adams Lake Indian Band. “It’s like peeling an onion. Our behaviour is only the first layer and you need to go deep to find solutions for yourself. We are used to carrying our pain around. We are used to blaming others. This (training) is about owning up to your own stuff. “Choices does not tell you how to think or act but it leads you to the (mental health) answers that are inside you,” she added.
For Kenoras, there were many memories of her being negatively impacted by the role alcohol played in her life. “There’s too much pain in my heart. I’m sitting in (an Indigenous) class and hearing stories of how Residential Schools continue to affect us. To a lot of students these are just stories but for me the memories are real. Our communities are suffering and it’s hard to for many of us to move forward.
“I would always play those (negative) tapes in my head. I never thought I was good enough. I have been in abusive relationships and they stay with you for a long time. I remember once looking up and seeing my blood on the wall,” added Kenoras.
At the end of the initial five-day mental wellness training module, participants are given the opportunity to step back and see their mental health objectively. The Choices program does not prescribe fixes as each participant holds the keys to their own mental wellness.
“Through my training, I’m finally able to live my truth. I’m able to live up to my true self and to be gentle with myself. And to accept myself as a strong Secwepmec woman. To be myself – to be a student. To face my challenges and not back down,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m a vulnerable Native woman and it’s okay to be vulnerable. I’m okay with my past and I’m confident for the future.
“My people have died for me to be here. They are scarred for life for me to be here. And I don’t want to waste it.”
Since her sobriety anniversary, Kenoras has noticed another positive in her outlook.
“Before October 24th, I would always think about what I was doing a year ago. Now that it’s been a year, I can now reflect on the positive turn my life has taken. It’s so nice to think, a year ago I was sober. It makes a big difference.”
Kenoras has always been involved in the cultural components of her First Nations community. This background led to her holding family and youth positions at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society and is currently employed as a Middle School Mentor with UBC Aboriginal Programs & Services.