Saturday morning, members of the community gathered at the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai to show solidarity with those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
For the third year in a row, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe hosted a suicide awareness and prevention walk with the theme, “You Matter. L;ve.”
Kerri Roe, Behavioral Health Support Services supervisor for the tribe, said that Saturday’s event was meant to show people that they are not alone, whether they’re struggling with their mental health, have lost a loved one to suicide, or have had suicidal thoughts themselves. The use of a semicolon in the title of the event is a reference to a national suicide awareness program, Project Semicolon. The semicolon is meant to represent the point where someone could have ended their story, but instead chose to continue it.
Behavioral Health Director Patricia Kelleher said that the tribe offers a number of mental health services through the Wellness Center. The center provides outpatient services for both mental health and substance abuse. The Henu’ Tribal Wellness Court works with those in jail diversion programs, and the Wellness Center serves Alaska Native and American Indian populations as well as the greater Kenai community. The Kenaitze Tribe also has a youth program at 10 different schools in the area, providing clinicians, counselors and individual support for children in the area.
As people gathered in the lobby of the Dena’ina Wellness Center to register for the walk, they had the opportunity to write the name of a loved one on a small painted canvas or make an honor bracelet using colored beads that signified different areas of loss — purple for the loss of a friend, white for the loss of a child and green for one’s own personal struggle, to name a few.
Nikiski Middle/High School teacher Jesse Bjorkman spoke briefly about the importance of reaching out to loved ones when they exhibit signs of suicidal thoughts.
“Suicidal ideas are not uncommon. Many people have had them. I’ve had them,” Bjorkman said. “How we respond to those ideas is what matters, what makes a difference … things can always get better. You don’t have to give in to the swamps that you face in your life.”
Periodically, local musician George Holly sang in the lobby about unity, love and fellowship. There was no formal concert setting, but whenever Holly began singing most people stopped what they were doing to reflect in the moment and in the music.
“Music is my form of devotion,” Holly said. “I’m just happy to be a part of the day’s event and give back to the tribe that means so much to me.”
The walk itself took place around the neighborhoods in Old Town Kenai. Even though the past week has seen some periodic rain, Saturday morning proved to be a sunny day with clear skies. Several dozen people participated and could be seen in their black and purple shirts walking the areas around the Wellness Center. After the walk, Holly sang a few more songs, and some raffle prizes were given away to those who had registered that morning.