Stories from our Roots: A Life Promotion Program

A youth-led, life promotion project that utilizes digital media to convey stories of resilience, hope, and strength.

It was over a year ago that Savannah Nahwegahbow from the Aundeck Omni Kanig First Nation took part in a Stories from our Roots workshop held in London, Ontario. The workshop was a collaborative effort with TakingITGlobal that not only focused on photography, but videography as well. The combination was ideal for Savannah.

“I studied media design and film making in college, and the workshop couldn’t have happened at a more fortunate time,” says Savannah. “I was really lost on my next steps in life. I knew what I wanted to do, but I just didn’t know where to begin.”

Savannah found those next steps with support from the Stories from our Roots program, and has since launched her own multimedia company called, Sakena Media. The company strives to showcase the talent and culture of First Nations people within communities, businesses and organizations, with a particular focus on youth and teaching them to use their voice.

Storytelling is an integral part of Indigenous culture and telling these stories through powerful images allows for a deeper understanding of ones’ community, culture and of themselves.

In partnership with the Chiefs of Ontario, the Ontario First Nations Young People’s Council, the Ontario Brain Institute, and the University of Western Ontario, Stories from our Roots aims to develop and implement an integrated mental wellness program that increases resiliency and reduces risk factors associated with youth suicide within First Nations in Ontario. Driven by First Nations youth, the initiative uses photography and digital storytelling to support young people in sharing theirs messages of hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose with peers across the province.

The project offers workshops to train youth in SafeTALK (suicide awareness training) and equip them to facilitate Photovoice workshops within their own communities, a method that uses photography to tell stories, create dialogues and actions that lead to positive community development. These tools ensure that voices of the communities are included in the building of healthy and sustainable supports and communities.

“It’s one thing to tell youth to be confident and express themselves, but it’s much better to give them the actual tools to dig deep so they can find that strength and resilience within themselves,” said Bernadette deGonzague, Sr. Health Policy Analyst, Chiefs of Ontario. “This project allows for real skill development, to provide young people with a platform to tell the stories of themselves, their communities and their culture in their own unique way. Ultimately, it empowers them to find their voice and have it celebrated.”

There have been eight workshops held across Ontario in London, Barrie, Peterborough, Little Current, Sault Sainte Marie, Thunder Bay, and Kenora that have reached 125 First Nations youth from 67 First Nations communities. The success of the program has been widely celebrated, and has been profiled in The Globe and Mail. Given the positive results of the program, the project is looking to continue the work to reach and empower more First Nations youth.

Savannah’s story is just one example of what the Stories from our Roots program, and its participants, can accomplish, with the hope that more young people will achieve the same outcomes.

“Looking back now I can certainly say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the Stories from our Roots session,” says Savannah. “It really opened a lot of doors for me.”

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