“When you learn to love yourself in all your imperfections and insecurities, and then choose to believe in yourself, suddenly anything becomes possible despite what others say or believe."
The words of a sagacious guru? Nope, that's a young lady in her twenties who's wise beyond her years. Her name is Tunchai Redvers and when I interviewed her for my latest book, “Pushing The Boundaries”, I discovered Tunchai, after almost becoming a statistic herself, felt compelled to do something about the broken lives she saw while growing up in a northern aboriginal community. With 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. "I was 15," she told me. "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. I learned that Tunchai’s thoughts of self-inflicted death had begun at age 12. “My fight with mental health was silent so I never reached out for help,” she explained. "I grew up in Hay River, a town of 3,600 on the south shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. It was pretty different from anywhere else. We were very isolated. It was pretty tough.”
Although her grandmother wouldn’t talk much about the residential school she had lived in for a decade at Fort Resolution, Tunchai realized there had been a lot of physical assaults, sexual abuse and emotional mistreatment. "Alcohol and drug addiction affected generations of my family as a result," she said quietly.
Enduring bullying and abuse herself, Tunchai struggled with defining her own identity. She really didn’t know what it meant to be Indigenous because there were no role models in the media. Her attempted suicide made her realize she needed help.
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.
"You've been pushing the boundaries for some time then, haven't you, " I said.
"I suppose so," Tunchai smiled. "If you mean challenging political, social, cultural, and societal norms, then yup, that's me.”
Embracing her culture and learning more about traditional teachings, Tunchai began talking about the importance of reconciliation and support for Indigenous youth. "The suicide rates with our young have always been high," she told me. "But it was becoming outrageous.” She cited 100 suicide attempts in an eight-month period in Attawapiskat First Nation, home to about 2,000 people. “It’s really overwhelming to keep hearing about young people taking their lives,” she said solemnly.
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. "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 said.
Outrageous idea? Sure, for those dedicated to the status quo.
But for Tunchai Redvers, this kind of pushing the boundaries just seemed natural.
The result has become "We Matter", a multi-media campaign designed to gather positive messages from people everywhere who offer support for Indigenous youth going through a hard time. Featuring short, personal videos on the website (wemattercampaign.org) and on social media, viewers are left with a very clear impression: no matter how hard, or hopeless or lonely things feel, there is always a way forward.
"Too many youth have trouble believing their life has value," Tunchai explained. "The 'We Matter' campaign is about changing that. We've become a registered non-profit organization with a resonating mandate: to communicate to Indigenous youth that their lives do matter, and to provide resources to encourage and support those going through a hard time while fostering unity and resiliency. By sharing our stories, our words of encouragement and our authentic messages of hope and resilience, we help to make a community stronger. Peter... I matter. You matter. We matter. It's that simple."
I'm fascinated by this concept, which appears to pre-sage the Black Lives Matters campaign.
So where is “We Matter” now? In Attawapiskat, 18-year-old males who looked a bit tough welled up while watching some of the videos because it resonated so clearly. In these communities, it landed, it connected with them.
"Tunchai, your name may mean flower, but you're no shrinking violet," I told her, promoting her smile. "But seriously, "I'm curious: you seem mature beyond your years. Is there someone you model yourself after?"
Her answer was unhesitating and direct. "For sure. Cindy Blackstock. She's a social worker and a powerhouse. She has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada. Cindy is loud, and she stands as strong as a brick in the face of institutions that tell her she's wrong. And Peter, that is exactly the type of person I aspire to be."
And if anyone has gifts that are about to change the world, it's Tunchai Redvers, the "flower of hope", following the beat of a distant drum, one that's sure to lead her to new levels of greatness, pushing the boundaries as she goes.
You can read more about Tunchai plus 31 other fascinating individuals in “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” (pushingtheboundaries.life).