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Healing experiences of BC First Nations women : moving beyond suicidal ideation and intention Paproski, Donna Louise


This study explores how five BC First Nations women moved through suicidal ideation and intention in their youth, and what has enabled them to move beyond suicidal states. Unstructured interviews were conducted with five adult First Nations women who were self-identified as being suicidal in their youth. Phenomenological research methods (Giorgi, 1985; Moustakas, 1994) were used to guide the interview process, analysis and the interpretation of the transcribed interviews. Each interview was analyzed for themes and developed into a narrative, which was reviewed for accuracy by each participant. Twelve major themes were identified. These themes are the experience of suicidal ideation, intention, and/or attempts; the experience of an unsuccessful attempt; the experience of deciding not to attempt suicide; separation from circumstances and/or persons; the experience of connection to family, ancestry and culture; the experience of professional counselling; connection to spirituality; connection to elders and others; the experience of positive sense of self; learning from the past; setting goals, and letting go of the past. Several procedures were used to examine the validity of the analysis and interpretation, including checking the findings with the participants. The five narratives describe a variety of processes and activities of healing for these five women. Their healing was, and continues to be, facilitated by a connection to Native spirituality, through prayer, being in Nature, engaging in rituals, healing songs, sharing with others in a spiritual space, and awareness of the Creator or other spiritual symbols. Many of these activities and experiences include family, elders, and community. All participants reported that a connection to their cultural identity was an important part of their healing process. All participants report an increased sense of personal empowerment and will to live, through experiences that have increased their self-reliance, helped them to express themselves, and experience personal responsibility. These experiences have involved elders or other role models, professional counsellors, and, sometimes, family and community. These women have a positive view of themselves and life and are committed to contribute to a positive future for themselves and other First Nations people. The findings of the study seem consistent with recent research findings about healing and wellness in First Nations people in BC (McCormick, 1997; McCormick, 1994; van Uchelen, 1996). The findings appear to support the assertion that First Nations suicidality in youth is linked to a long-term cultural deterioration and the resultant loss of transmission of essential cultural beliefs, values and worldview (Brant, 1986; Duran & Duran, 1995; Ross, 1992; Royal Commission, 1995). The significance of cultural connections and Native spirituality may have implications for the intervention and prevention of suicide in First Nation youth.

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