Mental Health and Well-Being: Tools for Those Working with Aboriginal Families in Ontario

Posted on September 27, 2010

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By Melanie Ferris, Aboriginal Health Promotion Consultant at Health Nexus

The community I’m working in is so limited by their poverty, by their limited ability to buy day-to-day food period; and the access to buy quality food at a reasonable price. They’re depressed so they don’t want to cook…

How do you get them out of their level of poverty? Giving them money doesn’t help—it doesn’t make them change the way that they buy food. It’s really the depression and the trying to make ends meet and the stress from the constant worry about money that causes obesity. Maybe really easy access to nutritional foods like fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables at their door or delivered to their buildings.
~Excerpt from an interview with Aboriginal midwife Ellen Blais (Turtle Clan), who works as a high-risk infant specialist at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto

Many service providers working with “at-risk” communities, including Aboriginal people, often wonder how to address issues of poverty and mental health. Those working on the front lines know that parents have a hard time accepting messages of “eating healthy” and “being active” with their children when they are needing help just to deal with their emotional, spiritual, and mental health.

Aboriginal people in particularly are susceptible to mental health issues due to our history of being removed from our families and placed into non-Aboriginal foster homes and of course, the residential schools.

To help service providers in addressing issues of mental health and wellness, the Best Start Resource Centre has developed a toolkit and training workshop called Let’s Be Healthy Together: Preventing Childhood Obesity in Ontario’s Aboriginal Communities. The project was led and developed by Aboriginal people from across Ontario with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Creating Healthier Communities cover pageWhile the toolkit does share messages of eating healthy, traditional foods and getting active using culturally-based physical activity programs, the toolkit also includes a book called Creating Healthier Communities. The book takes an in-depth look at how systemic issues after the mental and spiritual health and well-being of Aboriginal parents in Ontario. It provides a comprehensive list of healing lodges, counselling services, and other resources which service providers can use to help their clients in their healing journeys.

To learn more about using the toolkit to address issues of mental health, you can attend a two-day training session in Ontario for the low cost of $120. The cost includes health meals, teachings from local Elders and other traditional people, and one copy of the toolkit (valued at $60).

Training sessions happen as follows:

The training is also good for people who are simply looking to learn more about wholistic approaches to health and healing. Much of our work focuses on teachings from the Medicine Wheel, a traditional tool used to help teach families and others about how to be healthy and address all parts of health: body, mind, spirit, and emotions.

Medicine Wheel

Melanie says: I developed the Medicine Wheel (above) to help parents get some ideas of how to help their children be healthy in all senses of the word.

To register online for these sessions, visit 
You can find more information about the project online here or email Melanie Ferris (mail to: m [dot] ferris [at] healthnexus [dot] ca), Aboriginal Health Promotion Consultant at Health Nexus.