In this week that features not only National Indigenous Peoples Day, but the horrific discovery of at least 750 unmarked graves found on the grounds of a former Residential School in Saskatchewan, I’m thinking about Tunchai Redvers. She’s the extraordinary young lady who’s initiated the “We Matter” campaign, gathering positive messages from people across the country in support of Indigenous youth facing drug use and suicide.
I met Tunchai while interviewing her for my just-released book “Pushing The Boundaries!”. It was the headline associated with her that grabbed me first:
"Tunchai Redvers, one of the co-founders of We Matter,
reached out for help after ingesting pills at 15."
Turns out Tunchai, after almost becoming a statistic herself, felt compelled to do something about the broken lives she saw around her while growing up in a northern aboriginal community. Watching inflated rates of alcohol and drug addiction, along with accompanying suicide attempts, she began to see the importance of breaking the silence while reaching out for help. "The suicide rates with our young have always been high," she told me. "But Peter, it was becoming outrageous, like 100 suicide attempts in an eight-month period in Attawapiskat First Nation, home to about 2,000 people. It’s really overwhelming and tiring to keep hearing about young people taking their lives.”
Having endured bullying and abuse herself, Tunchai struggled with defining her own identity. “I didn’t really know what it meant to be Indigenous,” she told me, “because there were no role models in the media, and there was no one to look up to. I kind of broke at that point. I was 15. I saw no future and decided to take a toxic amount of pills before phoning my mom. I was at rock bottom and this was my cry for help."
Fortunately, the cry was heard.
"As someone who has struggled with bullying, abuse, identity questions, intergenerational trauma, suicidal thoughts, high functioning anxiety, and all the issues that come out of these,” she told me, “it took a lot for me to be able to feel comfortable in my own skin and begin to open up about who I was and what I’ve experienced. I’ve come up against real darkness. But I think what pulled me out of that was the need to find myself in order to help others."
Tunchai ("Flower" in the Chipewyan language) took control. She got into competitive sports, drama and dance. She moved to Yellowknife, a larger town, and broadened her social conscience, raising money for Haiti and even volunteering at an orphanage in Bolivia at age 16. Her volunteerism took her to India and then to a time of interning at two First Nations communities with an organization that empowers youth through sport. "That internship sparked a real passion for working with aboriginal youth," she says. "In fact, it changed my career path from working overseas in international development studies to Indigenous child welfare here."
"You'd been pushing the boundaries for some time then," I commented.
"I suppose so," Tunchai smiled. "If you mean challenging political, social, cultural, and societal norms, then yup, that's me. Pushing the boundaries means not being afraid to stand up for, speak out against, and to fight for what I believe to be right… When we step outside of our comfort zone and talk about these things, then this is when we, as individuals, and as a nation, can begin to recognize, learn, heal, and move forward in healthier ways."
Clearly, this caring attitude runs in the family. As Tunchai was experiencing her
awakening, her brother Kelvin was starting a video production company in Hay River. He shared Tunchai's calling to do something about the human destruction in aboriginal communities of the north.
"I remember the two of us saying, 'What if we could create a national campaign designed to share the message to Indigenous youth who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and other hardships: no matter how hopeless or lonely things feel, there is always a way forward!'" Tunchai says.
Outrageous idea? Sure, if you’re dedicated to the status quo. But for Tunchai and Kelvin Redvers, this kind of pushing the boundaries just seemed natural.
Tunchai stops to consider her thoughts, then adds, "You know, I have had to push a lot of my own boundaries in order to get to a place where I could try to change the systems around me as a young Indigenous woman in the social services and non-profit field. But in doing so, I have accomplished more than I could ever have imagined!"
And, isn’t that what pushing the boundaries is all about!!
There’s lots more to learn about Tunchai Redvers, and how she and Kelvin established “We Matter”. Her story is covered in “Pushing The Boundaries”, along with profiles of 31 other remarkable people. It’s all available at pushingtheboundaries.life