Buffalo Sabres defenceman Brandon Montour has an important message of hope for the First Nations, Inuit and Metis youth from across Canada.
Both Montour and Deanna Dunham, who is the Director of Indigenous Initiates and Equity Programs with Kids Help Phone, want these kids to always realize that help and hope is only one phone call or text away.
“Indigenous kids and youth need as much guidance and help as they can get, so anything that is available to them is very useful,” Montour said. He also went on to add, “With this pandemic, you can’t even imagine what a lot of these kids are going through, how any unrest in their lives is heightened even more. It’s good to know they have somewhere to turn.”
Montour is one of a handful of Indigenous NHL hockey players determined to somehow make a difference in assisting Indigenous youth in building confidence, hope and always being there as a role model.
Montour says the Kids Help Phone strategy is strengthening accessible support services to Inuit, Metis, and First Nations Youth across Canada in an age where it is critically needed.
In the last decade, suicide has been found to be the second highest cause of death among youth in Canada with the rate being five to six times greater among Indigenous youth.
“From my experience, I was very fortunate to have parents that were able to provide what I needed,” Montour said. “But that’s not the case for everyone. For these kids, who might be good athletes, there might not be things available like hockey rinks or baseball diamonds and to see them struggle, it really hits home. Whenever I’ve spoken to Indigenous youth, whether it’s sports or otherwise, I tell them that anything is possible. You have to be strong, stick with your dreams, and get out of your comfort zone. A lot of these kids don’t leave their community or they leave and come back in a split-seconds. One thing I would want to tell them is to believe in themselves.”
“You also need to put things in place because a lot of these kids are so afraid or just not comfortable leaving wherever they came from,” said Montour. “Whatever the issue may be, in a sense, it just might be that they aren’t comfortable getting out of the situation they find themselves in, that there is no escape route. These statistics show that once they face an issue or issues in their life, they can’t seem to find a way to get out of it. These initiatives are pathways to help and will definitely decrease those stats.”
The NHLPA made a major investment to the service on Giving Tuesday, matching all donations which were made to Kids Help Phone. After assisting in raising $76,000 a year ago, the NHLPA is once again focused on equaling monitory donations up to $20,000 made on Giving Tuesday.
“Players gladly share encouraging words, hoping to inspire people to reach out if they need help,” Devin Smith, NHLPA Senior Director of Marketing & Community Relations said. “Kids Help Phone offers a full compliment of important resources for youth across Canada, and the NHLPA is proud to be able to help support these services however they can.”
The organization has been challenged by the Indigenous Advisory Council of Kids Help Phone to seven goals through the plan of supporting First Nations, Inuit and Metis young people. The action plan drawn up consists of 37 activities which shows how the Kids Help Phone can between 2019 to 2022, make those goals a reality.
“Finding hope, that’s what we hear a lot of from Indigenous youth,” Dunham, who is a Mohawk member from Six Nations said. “That (action plan) name came from comments of young people who use our services. It was actually a letter where a young person said, “You helped me find hope and light in my darkest place… It’s something we hear continuously. Just having hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day is huge. It’s impactful and it saves lives.”
In echoing what was mentioned earlier about suicide being the second leading cause of death in Canadian youth, and how it’s five to six times higher among Indigenous youth, Dunham gave her own thoughts.
“It’s critical that we have support in building awareness and it’s important that the support comes from people youth know and trust,” Dunham said. “Brandon is someone that Indigenous youth can really identify with and trust. And when he encourages them to reach out, it has a strong impact. Brandon is somebody all Indigenous youth across Canada can identify with. When he says it’s okay to reach out for help, they will listen.”
During the Kids Help Phone expanding commitment in assisting the Indigenous youth and communities all around Canada, actions have been taken such as hiring First Nations, Metis, and Inuit wellness specialist who teach staff to visiting various Indigenous communities to share resources available to the youth and in an effective manner writing optimistic indigenous messages on the website. Basically, the organization’s prime objective is to reach and educate more people across the globe.
Looking ahead, Montour is feeling optimistic that the Kids Help phone’s resources will be used and benefited by the Indigenous youth.
Montour, who has played in 243 career NHL games, has a special message that he wants the Indigenous youth to hear and take to heart.
“It’s just the hope… even if it’s a minute conversation I have with the kids. You listen to the issues that they are going through, and you make sure they understand hope does exist.” Hope is a word they will hear when they contact Kids Help Phone.
Meanwhile, the Kids Help phone website is undergoing some special enhancements for the kids convenience.
“We are translating select pieces of our website content into 10 Indigenous languages,” Dunham said. “Five pieces will be translated into 10 indigenous languages and we’re developing a new interactive feature on the website that will be available in the 10 languages as well. It’s being done to increase access to our services. The interactive feature is basic introductory language, where people will be able to toggle between all of the languages. The goal of that piece is to really help non-Indigenous people understand the distinctiveness of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. We’re really trying to educate people with our voice, to educate young people about the issues that are affecting Indigenous people across Canada, and really highlight the skills and talents that these people have. We’re hiring Indigenous artists whenever the opportunity arises and the interactive feature on the website will be created by an Indigenous firm.”
Photo Cutline—Buffalo Sabres defenceman Brandon Montour is strongly encouraged by the commitment made by Kids Help Phone in strengthening support systems which are accessible for Inuit, Metis and First Nations youth across Canada who might be struggling and in need of assistance. Montour is encouraged and optimistic that Indigenous youth who might be struggling, will take action by exploring the Kids Help Phone’s programs available.
Photo Credit—Buffalo News via Yukon First Nations Hockey Association