November 19, 2016 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day
Published November 19, 2016
Unless you’ve both watched my performance “Blackstone” and attended my youth workshops where I talk about suicide and mental health issues, then you might not see that there is a correlation between the two.
Before the tragic passing of a dear friend, Gil Cardinal, who wrote the initial “Blackstone” pilot, he invited me to his home and shared a special story with me. This character I had been playing on the show was resonating with a lot of people; she is an 18-year-old girl who is a sexual abuse survivor and suffers from substance abuse problems, particularly gas sniffing. In the first episode, she commits suicide and returns for the rest of this show as a ghost to haunt her mother into sobriety.
I found out through Gil Cardinal that he based Natalie Stoney on a real girl he once interviewed in an Indigenous community in Canada. I was shell shocked when he showed me the tape of her that mirrored my performance in “Blackstone.” He looked at me searching, not knowing how exactly it happened: “You’ve never seen this before have you?”
I shook my head with tears in my eyes – sensing this profound connection with this girl crying about her grandparents in this old documentary video.
“It’s almost like you were meant to play her,” he said.
I guess it wasn’t surprising that so many people were reaching out to me once the show hit the airwaves. After all, it was based on a real person. And people reached out to me with their own personal stories of overcoming substance abuse, still suffering through it, or having attempted suicide or being suicidal. These issues today seem to persist in Indigenous communities.
I don’t know if numbers are rising. I don’t know if there is more violence – but I know that we’re talking about suicide, substance abuse, and violence more publicly than we were before as Indigenous Peoples and as a society in general. I don’t know if a day goes by where the sadness I thought I could run away from in Indian Country is always seeping into my newsfeed. It’s inescapable – and as tired as we may get of it – why should we be running? Ought we not to face it head on?
My father instilled in me the moral values that brought me where I am today. And that included giving back to my people. Remembering that in spite of the violence I have overcome time and again, it is not there to deter me, but to inspire me and remind me that I am connected to every other Indigenous person who has survived or suffered the same violence.
When Blackstone was making waves in Canada and people were responding to this gut wrenching story which exposed truths that many didn’t even want out in the open… He reminded me to go and shake hands with the youth. To remember that the waves this TV show was making was to be used to help the people who needed help.
Unbeknownst to me, I was one of the people who needed help.
Suicide prevention and education is work that surely will take massive moves from a lot of different people. I am thankful that so many across Indian Country are working tirelessly to help our people – young and old – to rise, to heal, to look within, to be strong enough to ask for help.
For a long time I kept it hidden that I had suffered from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. I simply denied that those thoughts could exist in my mind. I assured myself that I wasn’t really having those bad thoughts. It was actually the denial of it that kept it going for so long.
And I want the people who I have done suicide prevention work FOR to know that because I opened up to a character in a show who dealt with abuse and suicide, and went out to you all to talk to you about this issue… and because you opened up to me about your own suicide and depression and anxiety and sexual abuse and all the abuses, because you opened your hearts up to me, I was then able to open my heart up to myself and begin a true path of healing…
None of us on this journey are perfect. Myself included. And those who I worked with showed me their hearts, and gave me the courage to reach out for help in my own life and ask for it. I have worked for years now in therapy, sobriety, and ceremony on my own SELF. And I genuinely have never felt better.
So, to anyone out there who may have doubts that these workshops and these guest speakers, all this art, storytelling, dance, ceremony, sports, and whatever else it is, we may doubt as communities, that they help. Please trust and hear it from someone who knows: It does heal and it does work.
Roseanne Supernault (Métis of Cree) is an actress, writer and producer. Supernault stars in the Gemini Award-winning drama series “Blackstone.” She stars in “The Northlander,” which premiered at the 2016 ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival on October 23, 2016 in Toronto.
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