A beautiful sunset at camp.

As a few of you may have noticed, I have been absent for the last two weeks! The reason for this is I was volunteering as a leader for Oneida Baptist Camp. This was my first time ever leading at camp, and it was such a fantastic experience! Many people who’ve been to camp have been going for years, so my first time leading was a little different from others. Last year was my first time at Camp Oneida when I attended their leader training camp, which is when I fell in love. All year I’ve been looking forward to leading for the first time, and it was something I’ll never forget. The first week I was leading an older age group, 13-15, and it was definitely a learning experience. I was blessed to have an incredible co-leader, and she helped me a ton when I was stressed or overtired. The second week, I was leading a group of 8-10-year-olds, and I honestly don’t know how kids have so much energy. I really envy it, but I guess having a bedtime later than 9:30 might have something to do with my energy levels.

Trying to stay in the shade with my umbrella.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to much, as that took up all my time. Before I headed off to camp, I was finishing up school and attending a couple of events. In fact, camp began on July 1st, so I woke up bright and early to participate in the Caledonia Canada Day Parade, before driving out to camp right afterward. And as many of you in my area know, Canada Day 2018 was one for the books. In terms of heat, I mean. Sitting in the back of a black truck in 40-degree heat with humidex was almost too much for me, and I’m not one who handles heat well. Without water on a mildly hot day, more often than not you’ll see me on the ground. I am known for fainting, unfortunately, but by the grace of God, I was good for the parade, and we had a couple much needed water games that evening at camp that helped everyone to cool off.

Spots are limited! Contact me for tickets!

And now, the countdown is on! Miss Teenage Canada is in a MONTH!! I’ve begun fundraising for WE Charity, and I am so excited for the events I have planned. Currently, I am advertising a high tea fundraiser I’ll be hosting on August 5th. Tickets are $35 each, and all proceeds will go straight towards WE Charity (formerly Free the Children). If you are interested in attending, you can contact me or my mother, Melissa Turner. There is also a facebook event you can find here with more information! My goal for fundraising is $1500, and the more attendees, the closer I will be to my goal! I am also accepting donations of any amount, every little bit helps! I have a few events booked for the next month, and I am hoping to add more, updates to come!

Thank you so much for following me on my journey so far. I’ve been working hard on my blogs, on training, and preparing myself for nationals. I can’t express how thankful I am for the support I’ve received over the past months, and I promise I will work hard to make everyone proud on the national stage and spread my message of hope. Stay tuned for more!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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As many of you know, June is pride month! I’ve been so excited to promote this as a titleholder, and I’ve been looking forward to it since I was crowned. However, many of you may not know the origins of pride. So in this blog, I’ll be telling you about the origins and importance of pride, why it’s important, and the pride parade I had the chance to walk in! Many don’t know that pride month started as a way to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which happened in June of 1969. Since then, it has grown into an event that spans nations, genders, sexualities, and races. It is such an important event for so many people, and I was excited to participate in this year’s events!

Stopping for a photo at the rainbow crosswalk! 

First, a little history. On June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn, which was a known gay club in downtown Manhattan. Police would raid the club from time to time, but this time, people began to fight back. A protest broke out that ended up lasting the rest of the week. That was nearly 50 years ago now, and it was the event that began the modern day gay rights movement, which has since blossomed into a movement for the entire LGBT community. In 1970, the very first gay pride event, called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, was held to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. People gathered from across the city, marching on Sixth Avenue all the way from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Not long after, other commemorative marches in a number of cities across the USA began to be held. This, over time, transformed into the celebration we know of today. While it did start to commemorate a huge turning point in the age-old fight for equality, it is now not only this, but a celebration of being different, and more importantly, being yourself. It creates a space that welcomes differences and encourages individuality, and more importantly, tells people that being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not something to be ashamed of.

With the organizers and supporters of Get REAL!

The Toronto Pride Parade took place on June 24th. My boyfriend and I woke up bright and early Sunday morning and hopped on the GO Train to downtown Toronto. We had a chance to walk around for a couple hours before it was time to line up for the parade. Seeing everyone dressed up and happy, celebrating pride gives me indescribable joy. I had the opportunity to go to the New York City parade back in 2014, and it was such a great experience. Being in a space where having a gender identity or orientation other than cis and straight is not only accepted but celebrated, is a life-changing experience. It gives so many people, including myself as someone who identifies as bisexual, a much-needed space to feel free to be themselves, and have it be welcomed with open arms. I loved seeing this in the faces of those in the crowds as we walked around, looking at all the vendors and booths. After a couple hours, we went to the meet up at the Get REAL booth. Get REAL (Reaching Equality at Last) is a non-profit organization that has spoken to over 150,000 students in 8 provinces and 3 states about LGBTQ+ issues and combating prejudice. The organization has been featured on Global News, CTV, Much Music, and the National Post. They have university chapters and high school after-school programs, as well as presentations and workshops for middle school students.

“Get REAL was founded in 2011, inspired by our experiences volunteering in the Welcome Week program at Western University. As older mentors to hundreds of students each year, we began noticing that we were having success talking to our first years about derogatory (homophobic, transphobic, racist, etc) language, and creating a safe space for marginalized students who were looking to express themselves safely. The reason was in our approach: we were close in age, friendly, non-judgemental, and personal — we often opened up about our own lives to build a genuine, honest, human connection. And it worked. We saw countless students changing their language within days, and countless others coming out to us and feeling more comfortable being themselves.”

I was honoured to have the opportunity to walk with them in the Toronto Pride Parade, and I was taken aback by how welcoming everyone was, especially Chris, one of the founding members of the organization! Although it quite literally “rained on our parade”, that didn’t put a damper on the occasion! The whole walk was filled with smiles and music and dancing, and I even saw a number of friends during the walk. By the end, both my boyfriend and I were sore and exhausted, but we couldn’t stop talking about how fun it was. Overall, it was a successful and exciting day, and I can’t wait for next years parade!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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In grade 10, I was brought to the hospital because I fell down a flight of stairs during class. Classic Aleria.

This is my last full week of high school ever, and as sentimental a person as I am, I’m still happy to be saying goodbye. Since it’s the second semester of my fifth year of high school, there are very few students who are in the same grade. Most of those who I graduated with are either working full time or just finished their first year of university. When I walk through the hallways, I don’t recognize anyone anymore, and I’ve honestly gotten to a point where I am past ready to leave. When I was finishing grade 12, it was much more of an emotional goodbye. It felt like I was really saying farewell to my high school experience, and this time around, it’s as if I’m too busy looking forward to be thinking about the past.

Grade 10. Braces and elastics and frizzy hair.

This doesn’t mean I won’t miss it though. When I started grade nine, I was a scared, quirky 13-year-old who came to a much bigger school than my previous one and knew absolutely no one. My middle school was one hallway with six classes, and my high school is five floors that don’t connect, countless hallways, and a million flights of stairs. I still remember my first day of school, walking around the building before classes started, trying to find my classrooms before the first bell. I wore a peach blouse and had a flower crown in my hair, and each nail was painted a different colour. Thankfully, my style and fashion have since evolved, and I only wear one polish at a time now.

My group of friends in grade 11. I love them all so much, and we made some great memories.

Each first day of school, I would walk up to the front doors, and before I walked in, I would wonder, “What will this year teach me?”. And without fail, every year something would happen that at the time I considered life altering. While I know that hindsight is 20/20, and I can see that those incidents were not the end of the world as I anticipated, I still see that I learned incredible lessons and grew as a person from each one. Once in a while, I will have moments when I wish I could have done something differently, maybe said something different, wore a different outfit, spoke a little more, spoke a little less. When I have these moments, however, I remind myself that I couldn’t change who I was. There were things I didn’t know, and I had to learn those things. I remind myself that there are still mistakes I need to make, and one day I’ll look back to myself right now, and wish that I had done something differently, but because I don’t know what I’ll know then yet, I can’t make those changes. I can just do what I hope is the right decision, and remember that life keeps moving.

Show ready in grade 11

And speaking of things moving, I have an exciting, packed summer ahead. I’ll be finishing it off by moving into residence at York University. The first week of summer, I’ll be volunteering as a leader at camp, which I am super excited for! After that, I’ll be mostly working, traveling up north to visit family, and prepping for nationals! I have a few events already scheduled in my calendar, and hopefully, there’ll be even more to add! I’m also starting my six weeks of fundraising for WE Charity (formerly Free The Children) at the end of this month, so I have some awesome fundraisers planned. I also am in the planning stages for a new campaign, so keep an eye out.

NTS Drama Festival ’18, one of my favourite high school memories.

Then in August, I have Miss Teenage Canada, of course! I’ve been super busy preparing and getting myself ready. I want to be in the best shape possible, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, so I feel my best when I walk that stage. This includes working out, practicing, eating healthy, and loads of other things. My goal for nationals is top 10, since last time around I didn’t make it to top 20, but I also want to challenge myself. After the pageant is complete, I’ll have a couple weeks to pack and say my goodbyes, since I’ll be heading off to school! It’s been a stressful few months with applications, acceptances, figuring out how to finance my education, and figuring out everything I need to do before I start. I’ll be studying theatre at York University, and it’ll take about six years since I’ll also be getting my teaching degree concurrently. I’m so excited to move out and be independent, meeting new people and having new experiences, but I know I’ll still have some bumps along the way. It’s just remembering that all of those bumps are chances to learn and grow, and taking those opportunities as they come.

So I am saying goodbye to high school this week. But who knows, maybe if I end up teaching drama, I’ll be back in high school one day. For now, though, it’s see you later. I’ve got lots I need to do, and God knows high school isn’t the end of it. It was far from the “best four (five??) years” of my life, but it’s still full of memories I’ll never forget.

Til Next Time

Aleria

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If someone you know is in immediate danger, is threatening suicide, or talking about wanting to hurt themselves, call 911 or get help from an adult you trust. All information has been gathered from various mental health resources.


Ask your guidance office for information on suicide intervention training.

Suicide happens across all groups, populations, and ages. Knowing the warning signs and knowing what to do is one of the most important ways you can help to prevent suicide before it happens. And while suicide can’t be prevented with complete certainty, there are steps we can all take to lower the risk among those around us. In this blog, I’ll be talking about signs that could indicate someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and what you can do in these situations, with an aim towards youth. There are many resources you can seek that offer training in these areas, and what to look for and how to react. Many communities and schools offer safeTALK and ASIST for students that will give instruction on suicide intervention skills, which can be incredibly useful and important when applied properly to crisis situations.

Let’s start with some information on contacts for crisis and non-crisis situations. In crisis situations, there are many helplines available, as well as 911. Calling 911 will give you information on next steps, and connect with immediate help if needed. I urge you to not be afraid to call 911 if you believe someone is in immediate danger. If you’re unsure, calling a helpline may be another option. Kids help phone is a good resource for children and youth. The counselor will give you next steps, and advice for resources around you. It’s also important to mention that suicide prevention does not necessarily mean preventing a suicide that is imminent. It can mean helping someone you know is in need to connect with supports. Someone can still be showing suicidal ideation while not being an immediate suicide risk, and this does not mean that getting help is any less important.

The suicide prevention ribbon.

So, what should you look for? Three basic things to look for are mood, behavior, and words. Does this person talk about being a burden, having no reason to live, wanting to die, or being in pain? It could be blunt, or small things you may notice that they say that could indicate they are thinking about suicide. Do they abuse substances, act recklessly, isolate themselves, withdraw from activities, are they giving away their possessions? These and more can all be behavioral indicators of suicidal thoughts. Do they display signs of depression, irritability, anxiety, or anger? Suicidal thoughts can come out in a number of ways, and it’s important to check in on those around you when it seems like something has changed. Sometimes, unfortunately, none of these actions can be seen from the outside, and you can miss someone struggling in front of your eyes. This is why it’s still important to check on those around you, even when things seem fine. It can never hurt to reach out.

There are certain risk factors to look out for as well, that don’t cause or predict a suicide but can make it more likely that someone will consider suicide. These can include a history of mental illness, substance use, impulsiveness, major physical or chronic illness, local clusters of suicide, lack of social support, loss of relationships, and many others. It’s important to be aware of these, and be aware that suicide never has one single cause.

So you’ve analyzed the situation, and you’ve decided to talk to the person in need. What next? First, you need to make sure that you’re the right person to approach them, as it may not be you. If you don’t think you’re capable of having these hard conversations, or you have any bias that may upset the person, you may not be the best person to approach them. In this situation, you have a number of options. Talking to a parent, guidance counselor, trusted adult, primary care doctor, or a helpline are all ways you can choose to ask for help in approaching the person involved. They will help from there. If you do decide to have the conversation, it’s important that you have a plan of action, and consider possible outcomes and how you will respond. It’s still vital that a trusted adult is aware of what is happening as youth should never handle this alone.

Start with some questions about how they’ve been feeling. You may choose to ask if they’ve been struggling with anything as an entry point, but it’s important you keep going. Listen to what they have to say, and ensure them that they can trust you. You may choose to go into direct questions, and asking if they have been thinking of killing themselves. If they do say they’ve been thinking of suicide, it’s imperative to ask further questions to evaluate immediate danger. Ask if they have a plan, or if it has just been a thought. If they do have a plan, they’re at a higher risk of being in danger. If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a crisis center, 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Taking measures such as making sure they don’t have access to anything that could be dangerous, such as guns, drugs, knives, or other potential weapons.

Check in on those around you!

Make sure you stay calm and do not leave the person alone. Focus on listening to them, asking questions, and keeping engaged. Insisting on getting help too harshly can have negative consequences, and may cause them to panic. Don’t worry too much about saying the wrong thing, but do stay away from certain things. Avoid telling them that you know what they’re going through, but also don’t be afraid to show empathy. Acknowledge their pain, and tell them you’re there to listen. Don’t pose judgment or guilt them. Saying things like “Think of the people you’re hurting” or “Suicide is a selfish act” can worsen how they’re feeling. Avoid things like passive optimism and things like “it gets better”. This does nothing to improve the current situation and does not solve the problem at hand. However, providing a sense of hope in a meaningful and realistic way can be helpful, as long as you’re not making promises you don’t decide.

If from there, you both decide that it’s not serious enough to seek professional help, ensure that they check in with you on a decided schedule, and make sure they do. Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling when they neglect to let you know, and try to have honest conversations with them. Ask them what helps them get through these tougher times, and remember it for future situations.

Don’t be afraid to seek other resources for help in these situations, and view this blog as a starting point for guiding yourself through situations like these. Always make sure you’re taking care of yourself through this process as well, self-care is extremely important, as these kinds of situations can be emotionally draining. Don’t be afraid to talk it out with someone, and check in on how you’re feeling as well. I hope you found this useful, thank you for reading!

Til Next Time

Aleria

 

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If you’re from Ontario, chances are you’ve heard about the upcoming provincial election. When I turned 18 last year, the thing I was most excited about by far was the fact I could finally vote! I’ve always been an advocate for youth being involved and letting people hear their voices, and it was my turn, so you’ll definitely see me at the polls June 7th!


This isn’t a post about who I’m voting for, who you’re voting for, or any other things like that. Women in politics, equity in politics, and youth in politics in something very important to me, since I believe that if we truly want to strive for equality, all voices should be heard. We are extremely lucky to live in a country where we have power in choosing who governs us and, that we can voice our political opinions freely. Unfortunately, there are many places that still restrict these rights for their citizens, and in many cases, restricting this from women. Even in Canada, women were not allowed to vote until the early 20th century. It boggles my mind that my parents lived in a time where women couldn’t vote just a few decades before. First Nations people could not vote in elections unless they gave up their status and treaty rights up until 1960, only then could they vote without fear of losing their rights. This is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about marginalized and oppressed communities voting. Our voices were silenced for so many years, and this is one of the ways we can reclaim our power. I also have always encouraged youth to get their voices heard, even when they are not eligible to vote yet.

The group of students who started a movement

I am not exaggerating when I say that the youth are the future. We will be the ones to inherit this world and take care of it till we pass it on to the generations after us. It makes me sad when I hear teenagers and young adults say they don’t know enough to vote, or they simply don’t care. Youth have so much power, and there are still adults today who don’t realize that, or perhaps, don’t want to. It’s evident, and we have been seeing across North America today. Thousands rallied for the March for Our Lives, started by a group of high school students. I get so excited when I see youth speaking up and taking the first steps in changing the world. I love seeing youth grow more accepting and educated, seeing them stand up for groups that they might not even be a part of. The youth who make an effort to make a difference are the ones that the coming generations will look up to, and that gives me so much hope. This is why I encourage everyone to let their voice be heard, and speak for what they believe in. Not only this but understand the importance of being knowledgeable about current events and issues in our world. Understand the importance of educating oneself. This translates to politics on a local, provincial, and national scale.

Electoral ridings in Ontario

So, how can you vote in the upcoming election? First, you must be 18 years of age and a resident of both Canada and Ontario. If you are, you’ll need to register to become a voter. Information on this can be found at the e-Registration website. Unsure who to vote for? Do your research! However, I can’t stress how important it is to ensure that the information you’re receiving is accurate and unbiased. I’m never one to say any political party is perfect, but a biased editorial or an article from a tabloid can spread misleading, and in some cases, false information. We’ve all heard about “fake news”, and unfortunately this is what happens sometimes! This can come from either side as well, it can be overly positive, or it can be overly negative, whichever benefits the side at hand. Start by looking at your ridings candidates, and what they stand for. Get out to town hall meetings, debates, and other events happening in your community. See what each candidate has to offer. Next, you can look into the provincial party leader, and read up on their opinions on current issues. Think about their platforms, and how they could affect you personally, but also don’t be afraid to think about how they will affect others. I try to look at things considering what can benefit everyone, so that’s something I’d take into consideration. If you’re looking for a starting point, here is a “cheat sheet” of sorts from Maclean’s, but make sure that you do further research on points that are important to you! And who knows, maybe you’ll even decide to not vote, as many do. If that’s the case, I still encourage youth to be educated on the issues at hand, even if they decide they don’t want to vote.

Thank you so much for reading!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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As many of you from Six Nations may know, the last week or so has been Community Awareness Week! The festivities have come to a close today, and I am so excited for next years events! The last two weeks have been filled with fantastic events all around Six Nations. Before the week started, I had made a list of events I wanted to check out and attend, but before I had come home from provincials for the drama festival, I found myself with the flu! I was in bed for the next four days and I was still under the weather for most of the weekend. I was so disappointed because there were so many things that I wanted to go to and get involved in. Community participation is so important, and it’s apart of not only individual wellness but group wellness. A strong sense of community is vital to creating social wellbeing. This is why I was so disappointed when I got sick, but as an advocate for mental health, I realize that physical and mental health are directly related, and I need to ensure that I am healthy before I can help others. Self-care is so important, and it’s not selfish to take the time to focus on yourself and how you are feeling.

Before the parade!

Fortunately, by the next Monday, I was feeling much better, which was just in time for Bread & Cheese! If you’re from Six Nations or you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know what I’m talking about. However, if you don’t, Bread & Cheese is an annual Six Nations tradition that draws out thousands of community members. It’s our way of celebrating Victoria Day, in which everyone lines up for a piece of bread and a piece of cheese. There are always other events, like fireworks, a parade, a carnival, and various tournaments. It’s one of the biggest events in our community, and I love going. This year, I participated in the parade and was involved in the after party, hosted by myself alongside one of my absolutely fantastic sponsors, Six Nations Marketplace. The parade included various organization, businesses, and ambassadors. My incredibly supportive stepmom drove the truck while I sat in the back. The day before I had just picked up my freshly made signs, made by OH Multimedia, a local business which made a couple fantastic banners I’ll be using at events and parades!

Saying hi to the tortoises!

Afterward, I stayed and got my bread and cheese, and checked out some of the community vendors. I always love going, because I see so many people I wouldn’t see anytime else; former friends, classmates, teachers. After I had the chance to see everything, I headed over to the marketplace where my family had set up a food booth. They are so supportive of me, and I am so lucky to have people who help me to succeed and make sure everything goes as planned. At the party, there was food, bouncy castles, a petting zoo, and not to mention the incredible vendors! I was especially excited to see the petting zoo, so as soon as I had the chance I was over there in a heartbeat. There were reptiles and other small animals, as well as a baby alligator and a giant snake! My boyfriend worked at a zoo for a number of months, so as we walked around the displays, he told me about each one and their typical behaviour, as well as anecdotes about his own experiences. My favourite animals were either the tortoises or the chinchilla, but all of them were super interesting! I also have a huge soft spot for guinea pigs, so I melted when I saw the hairless cavy, which they had dubbed a “house hippo”.

While I do wish I got out more, Community Awareness Week looks like it was a huge success, and I can’t wait for next years events!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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I thought I’d just do a fun quick blog, to just to tell you all a little more about me!


10 Facts About Aleria!

  1. Although I have a huge sweet tooth, I hate chocolate and ice cream! I’ve never liked chocolate, but at some point, over the years I lost a taste for ice cream as well. And despite my lack of love for chocolate, I love Oh Henry bars! They don’t seem to taste like chocolate to me.
  2. Silver Linings Playbook movie poster!

    I am a huge movie junkie! Every year I try and make sure I’ve watched all the major movies nominated for Oscars. I also keep a list of my favourite movies, but my all-time favourite is Silver Linings Playbook.

  3. I’m ambidextrous! Although I’m not able to fully able to use my fine motor skills with my left hand, I use my right hand for fine motor skills (writing, etc), and my left hand for gross motor skills (opening jars, playing sports).
  4. I have always been obsessed with penguins! It all started when I did a project on them in grade 2, and I’ve loved them ever since. I even wrote a book about penguins in grade 3, which I still have in a folder of old school assignments. I also have a collection of stuffed penguins all around my room, and I keep my favourite one in my bed!
  5. I have four middle names! They’re all family names, and since I was my parent’s only daughter and last child, my mom decided she needed to get all the family in one name.
  6. A photo at dance class from 2015

    I danced from 2002-2015, and was a competitive dancer from 2008 on, competing in Myrtle Beach, New York, and California. I was trained in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and hip hop.

  7. I am fairly fearless, although rollercoasters are mostly off limits for me. I’ve never been afraid of putting myself out there and, sometimes, making a fool of myself. I’m always open to new experiences and learning and growing from mistakes I make.
  8. I am not a fan of most sports, but I love baseball! I wasn’t into it until my mom took me to a Jays game a few years back, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Personally, I’m a Toronto fan, but I miss a lot of the players who’ve been traded. I don’t think you’re supposed to form emotional bonds with players, but I’m not worried.
  9. Nikki from 6Teen, I even wanted to have her purple hair!

    I absolutely love the cartoon 6Teen! It used to be on Teletoon I believe, but it was always my favourite. I went through a phase a couple years ago where I rewatched the entire series, and I remembered how much I loved Nikki! I wanted her style so badly, and I thought her quick humour was so funny. I even considered getting a nose piercing like her for a while!

  10. When I was little, I went to a Robert Munsch made up a story about me! I had gone to one of his shows with my grandma, and he saw me sitting in the front row. He asked me my name, and made up a story on the spot about my super curly hair!

Those are just a few little things I came up with! I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks, thanks for reading!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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“Lily was always the girl who kissed the stars, who danced in the flames, whose eyes were big enough to swallow the entire night sky.”


Cast and crew of “And She Split the Sky in Two”

The past few months have been a blur of stage lights and rehearsals. I can’t accurately recount the time and effort, the blood sweat and tears that went into this show. There have been roadblocks and difficult points, but we’ve been lucky to have been able to pull through to put on the best show we could. I’m so blessed to have been able to put myself out there in such a raw and honest way, and I’m so happy that our show has been recognized for all it has. For those of you who don’t know, the NTS Ontario Drama Festival, formerly Sears Drama Festival, is a high school theatre festival comprised of three levels of competition, districts, regionals, and provincials. All participating schools compete in the district competition. From there, depending on the number of participating shows, a select few are chosen to move on to the regional festival. There are 6 regional festivals, and from there two shows move on to the provincial level. It’s the largest drama festival of its kind in the world, with approximately 400 shows a year. It’s a fantastic learning and growing experience, and I am so thankful.

Cast and crew!

Two years ago, when I first knew I wanted to write a play, I had no idea where it would take me. It was my second year participating in the Sears Drama Festival, and I knew I was in love. I knew I loved the stage after having performed in three productions; Skin, The Orphan Train, and Still Life With Iris. I had found a home in theatre, and I was slowly becoming aware of the impact it could have on an audience. So slowly, over the next year, I began to write. Every few weeks I’d have an idea, and I’d quickly jot it down on my phone. I would write a chunk of text and leave it alone for another month. I really began writing in early 2017. I had the idea of a girl who loses her older sister suicide. I grew up familiar with suicide and the valuable lives it takes, and after experiencing the lack of knowledge and education on indigenous issues in our country, I knew I wanted to bring light to these issues in a manner where people would listen. In a manner that would speak to people. I have always loved writing and with my newfound love of theatre, I thought this would be the perfect medium to tell this story.

The Poster!

After a few months working on it, I finished the first draft. It was around this time our 2017  Sears show was finishing up, and all of us were deciding what play we were going to produce the next year. All the students who wanted to be involved in the show came together and pitched some ideas. We read excerpts of various scripts, including my own, and anonymously voted on what show we wanted to be a part of. A week later, it was announced that my show was picked! I was so excited and honoured to even have my play chosen, I couldn’t imagine what was in store for us. We chose the directors and stage managers, and about two weeks later, we held auditions to cast our leads. Over the summer, I worked more on the script. As the playwright and artistic director, I began brainstorming ideas for the set, costumes, blocking, and other aspects of the show. It was also during that time that we found out that Sears would be pulling all funding from the festival since it’s closure in Canada. We were all devastated because we thought this meant no more Sears. Fortunately, over the next while, funding came through and some phenomenal sponsors stepped up to save a festival that has been running for over 70 years! It was renamed to the National Theatre School Drama Festival, which many of us are still getting used to, I admit.

We all came back to school in September ready to begin. We finished casting and worked for a few weeks on the production side of things. In October, we started with actors, rehearsing hours on end. Since we had a majority non-indigenous cast, something that was important to me from the beginning was that they understood the story they were telling. We had rehearsals where we would dedicate our time to sitting and discussing various indigenous issues, focusing mostly on suicide and intergenerational trauma. I often gave the cast “homework”, which meant a number of articles, movies, videos, and poems. I encouraged them to not only look to me for information, as I am only one person and do not represent every native person’s experience but to also make an effort to educate themselves. I explained how looking to people of colour to educate them is harmful, and not everyone has the time or mental energy to dedicate to teaching those who are unfamiliar with these problems. With this group, I let them know that their time and dedication, and willingness to learn is why I spent my time teaching them. With many ignorant voices in today’s society, it is inspiring and refreshing to see people want to understand.

With Abbie, one of the incredible leads!

After I won Miss Teenage Ontario, things really began rolling. I tried to get the word out about the show any chance I could. We all were so excited when we heard we would be on APTN National News. When it came time for it to air, we all sat down in the auditorium with the projector showing the news live. It currently has over 600 shares on Facebook, and it was such a great way to spread our message! The district competition was also quickly approaching, and seeing the show come together was such a reward for everyone’s hard work. We successfully completed our scheduled public performances, and it was time for districts. The moment the girls stepped on that stage, my breath was taken away. I can’t describe how odd and amazing it was to see the words I wrote on my cell phone on a Greyhound bus a year earlier come to fruition in front of an audience. They blew me away and received a standing ovation, I felt like a proud mom! At the awards the next night, we all held our breath as we received awards for Best Student-Written Production, Original Music, Technical Innovation, and Technical Proficiency. Finally, it came down to the two Outstanding Production awards. I held hands with Abbie, one of our leads, and to my genuine surprise, they called our show! Many of us were crying, and we were all looking forward to going returning to regionals!

With our main cast members after learning we would move on!

Over the next weeks, we prepared for the next level of competition. We spoke a lot about the potential of moving on, and why we were doing the show. We all agreed that our sole focus was telling a story that needed to be heard, everything else came second. So when it came time for regionals, we felt ready. Of course, there were the customary pre-show nerves, especially with the pressure of provincials. We all were so passionate about the story, and we all wanted to see it be successful, not to mention it would be the first BCI show in over 30 years to make it to provincials. However, the nerves didn’t show as they all got onstage and gave it their all. The next night was awards, and I think everyone was anxious. That night, the crew earned an Award of Excellence in design for production aspects, our stage manager received the Stage Managers Award, and I received an Award of Excellence for playwrighting. Finally, the time came for what we were all waiting for. Outstanding Production. Only two shows at each regional festival have the honour of being presented with this award, and out of 11 productions, we were hoping for the best, but also knew that there were so many shows performed that week. The first show was announced, and we all cheered. It was a deserving production, and we all loved watching it. I held hands with Abbie yet again, and hearing “And She Split The Sky In Two” was a literal dream come true. We were all in total shock, and nearly all of us were in tears as we went onstage to collect our award.

There was only a week between the regional festival, and the provincial festival, so the next morning everyone was in high gear. Hotels, registration, permission forms, lists, lists, and more lists. We had two rehearsals and a fundraiser performance before we left on the 9th of May. Fortunately, everything ran fairly smooth with minimal bumps, which is a big deal if you know any of us. A week before the festival, I got an email saying that I was shortlisted for the New Play Award! I had sent in my play to the NTS Drama Festival committee for the New Play Award, which is given to a student playwright who’s show was entered into the current year’s drama festival. This year had 23 entries, and out of that, 4 scripts were shortlisted. I had also received another email, saying that I would be given an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Foundation Scholarship awards, which are scholarships and bursaries given to students entering any form of the arts for post-secondary. It would be a nerve-wracking 4 days, but nonetheless unforgettable.

Banners that were given to each school!

We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Cambridge for provincials. The days were filled with workshops, and the nights were spent at social activities with the other students from participating schools. Unfortunately, I caught the flu while we were there, so that was a bit of a damper on my experience, and I was not able to attend workshops. However, I still managed to attend the social events during the evenings, which included a talent show on Thursday, and a neon-themed dance on Friday! Both were organized by this year’s Miss Teenage Waterloo Region, Avery! It was so great to be able to reunite and catch up with her and, of course, chat about pageant stuff! We meant to grab a photo together, but the week was busy for the both of us and we never got a chance.

We were the last show on the first night of the festival. I was nervous, as I usually am, but everyone brought the audience to their feet. I was so so proud of everyone for bringing us this far. Prior to the show, many people were in tears, as we knew it would be our last performance. For a number of us as well, it would be our last performance of our high school careers. Everyone was crying, and there were hugs all around. I was so thankful that everyone embraced this story the way they did and brought my heart to that stage. I worked so hard not only writing the show but directing it as well. I knew everyone had worked incredibly hard and put their all in as well. They showed me that hard work pays off, and I am so inspired by everyone involved in our show.

The Outstanding Achievement Award winners!

The next few days, we watched a number of fantastic shows! There were 2 shows from each regional competition, so 12 in total for the week. To close off the festival was the awards ceremony. There were a number of different awards for not only provincial participants, but participants for the entire festival. I had had an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship the day before, so I had my fingers crossed. There were 2 Stratford Summer Program Scholarships awarded, one of which was given to a BCI student! After that, there were 4 $1000 bursaries awarded, one of which was given to our wonderful puppet maker/puppeteer, Jessica! Who coincidentally is my roommate for university next year! I was extremely nervous as they began to announce the scholarship winners. Before I knew it, they were calling my name as a winner of one of 4 $3000 scholarships! I didn’t win the New Play Award, but it went to a show from another region which I am sure was very deserving! After those awards, the festival awards were given. The cast received an Outstanding Achievement Award, which was incredibly deserved. Last, the Mira’s were awarded, which are for individual achievement. Jessica was awarded one for puppet creation, and our show’s director and I received one together for collaboration in direction and playwrighting. Normally they are for individuals, however, the adjudicator felt that 3 of the awards belonged to two people each, and I completely agree. The other two went to two puppeteers from The Twoman by Grimsby Secondary School, and to the playwrights of Play Rights by Loretto College School.

I can’t thank this festival enough for everything it has given me. This has been such a great way to end my four years of the Sears Drama Festival, now NTS Drama Festival. Having this opportunity to tell not only my story, but the story of those around me has been such an honour. It’s because of this festival I am able to do the things I am doing, and I couldn’t imagine life without it. Theatre has taught me so many lessons and I’ll hold these memories close for the rest of my life.

Til Next Time

Aleria

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If you ever need to reach out, there are always resources. 

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Six Nations Youth Crisis Line: 1-866-445-2204
Haldimand/Norfolk REACH Crisis Line: 1-866-327-3224
Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266
Mental Health Crisis Line St Leonards: 519-759-7188


Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth.

Suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.


I am not one to normally state statistics. I believe that we shouldn’t diminish people, entire lives, to a number. Many communities face the issue of suicide, and even one is one too many. However, sometimes, it is necessary to show the scale of the disproportionate amount of indigenous people who take their lives in our country each year. The events I’ve witnessed and experienced in the last few years, have been what has inspired me to raise my voice, and make a difference. When I chose my platform, I wanted to be able to speak about it with a true passion. I felt that if I didn’t choose a cause that was close to my heart, it would seem ingenuine. I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts for a long time, and I attempted suicide in April of 2017. This is something I always try and be open about because I don’t believe there is shame in being honest. In asking for help. I also believe that the more we talk about these problems, the more others will be comfortable in coming forward with their own struggles. Many people say they feel alone, and I understand that feeling completely. In my times when I’m feeling at my lowest, knowing there are people who understand what I am going through is an undeniable comfort. My goal is not only to be a voice and an advocate but also help individuals, those who are on the front lines.

A clip on suicide in Attawapiskat from 2016, click image to watch video

Suicide among indigenous people is a unique issue. Many reservations and communities are fairly small, and even on large ones such as my own, it can still feel as if everyone knows everyone. The ripples of a suicide in these communities are felt by all, and the youth are normally the ones taking the ripples turned riptides head on. Frequently being exposed to suicide can sometimes also account for suicide clusters, and lead to the normalization of these behaviors, which is extremely dangerous for impressionable youth. By showing examples of more people seeking help, instead of glorifying the actions of those who are lost by suicide, we can help one another. Honouring their lives, and vowing to ensure that no one else feels so helpless that they feel the only option is to take their own life. Many of the issues faced by those on reservations can be traced back to the lasting effects of colonization, including residential schools experiences, forced assimilation, modern day racism, forced adoptions and foster care, forced relocation, and denial of existence as people. Intergenerational trauma is a term meaning the inheritance of historical oppression and its negative consequences to future generations. You can see this in communities affected by residential schools.

Youth are so valuable to our communities and to our world as a whole. Youth are capable of moving mountains and making change, and a prime example of this is the March for Our Lives held this past year. Led by youth, they created real change and started a movement for something supported by many people, youth, and adults alike. Many Indigenous cultures emphasize the importance of the coming generations. We are to think about the 7 generations after us when considering how our actions will determine the future. This includes emotional, environmental, and community decisions. There are a number of communities suffering and living in third world conditions in our own country. So many reserves do not have adequate living conditions, let alone mental health services. Canada does not have statistics to begin to approach this epidemic, and we are the only G7 country without a national suicide prevention action plan. While I think we are very lucky to live in such a diverse, wealthy country, there are still places we are lacking, particularly with our treatment of the first peoples of this country.

Telling a story that needs to be heard.

The first step to creating change is bringing awareness. With “And She Split The Sky In Two”, the one-act play I wrote for the NTS Drama Festival, I hoped to start a conversation. Many people are still extremely unaware, many people refuse to believe there is a problem, and there are those who simply don’t want to listen. There are always hard conversations we need to have, and as allies, it is their job to have these conversations. I have spent years having these difficult conversations with those who would rather stay ignorant, and I understand how draining they can be. Fortunately, with our show, we have had so much incredible feedback, and stories from those who are beginning to understand. While this is a start, it is important that people take it upon themselves to educate, and not always expect those in these situations to do the educating. While there are always people willing to teach, there are just as many who don’t feel as if they should have to, and it is completely understandable. Suicide and trauma is a sensitive topic, and thinking about it constantly is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

As a suicide attempt survivor, I deeply understand the mental health issues today’s youth are facing first hand, as well as those on reserve. I want to be a role model for other youth who are struggling, and show them that things always have the potential to get better. Mental health should not be shamed, and every person should have the opportunity to seek help. My goal is to start a conversation, the real work starts after that, and that includes every single one of us.

Til Next Time

Aleria

 

Written by: Aleria Tagged with:, , , , , , ,
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Thank you for tuning into the last installment of my wellness series! I hope you all have found this useful! It was a learning experience for me as well. Today’s installment is focusing on social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve this in your own life!


Social Wellness and You

Social wellness refers to your relationships with the people around you and how we interact with those around us. Building healthy, supportive, and nurturing relationships are vital because these relationships can offer support during hard times. Humans are a social species, and we all rely on each other in one way or another. When discussing social wellness, it’s necessary to ask yourself a few questions. Are your relationships positive and rewarding? What aspects of your social life are you satisfied with? What do you want to improve? Reflecting on your own actions and how they may affect the people around you is key to keeping your relationships healthy.

So what can you do to improve your own social wellness? First, participate! Don’t be afraid to explore diversity, be open-minded when talking to people of different backgrounds. Gaining self-confidence is a prime factor in improving social wellness. Many people are insecure about their ability to communicate with others, and the only way to improve this is practice! Talk to new people, ask questions, and don’t be afraid! Every single one of us has had moments where we said the wrong thing (or think we said the wrong thing) and won’t let it go for a week. Trust me, I know I have. However, it’s in these mistakes that we learn and grow! Making mistakes is human, and no one can tease you about it because none of us are perfect. Participate in social activities you enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Not everyone loves huge groups of people. I recommend finding a school club or community group you can participate in that caters to your interest. Maybe it’s a video game club or an activist group or student council or a sport or, if you’re like me, a theatre group! Participating in something competitive can also enhance your teamwork and collaboration skills. Often times, you also can create close relationships that’ll stay with you for a lifetime. I’ll never forget my fellow drama friends and the girls I grew up dancing with.

What does a healthy relationship mean to you?

Having the awareness to be able to tell the difference between a healthy and a toxic relationship is also important to your overall well being. There are many signs you could be in a toxic relationship, and this does not have to refer to a romantic relationship. Friends, relatives, and even parents can pose a toxic environment to you. It is always hard to deal with these relationships and avoid them in a mature and safe way, but it is up to you to decide what if best and safest for you. Ask yourself questions about the relationship in question. Is there a mutual respect? Is there trust? Honesty? Do you encourage each other? Is there a healthy amount of time spent apart? Together? There are also many signs of an unhealthy relationship. Watching your feelings when interacting with this person can be telltale signs. If you find yourself feeling pressured or controlled by them, tiptoeing around their feelings, feeling afraid of angering them, you may need to reflect on what can or should be done. You should never feel guilty for ending an unhealthy relationship. Do what is best for you and your well being, instead of what you feel others want you to do. For more information, read this article on healthy vs unhealthy relationships.

How can you improve your resolution skills?

Last, let’s talk about conflict resolution. We all can spend time building conflict resolution skills, and these are skills that can be used in the workplace, school, and personal relationships. Conflict generally arises from differences of any kind. When approaching conflicts, it’s important to consider what the root of the problem is. Sometimes underlying issues between individuals can cause conflict about small, unimportant problems. Sometimes, it is truly about what the disagreement is focused on. It’s also vital to remember that when ignored, conflicts can grow much larger than they need to be. Dealing with it when it arises is always the best way to go. After considering the root cause, think seriously about both sides. While it’s near impossible to look at it without a bias, you can do your best to look at the facts, and consider both opinions. Keeping calm is the fastest way to lose control of your emotions and situation. Be honest and respectful, voice your opinion, and listen to theirs. Chances are, whatever it is, they feel just as strongly as you do, and that should always be remembered. Active listening is also key to considering both sides. Listen to what they have to say, and make sure you’re listening to hear what they are saying, instead of listening to respond. Here is an article from the Huffington Post on 10 tips for effective conflict resolution, if you’d like some extra reading!

Thank you so much for reading! I truly hope you enjoyed this series! I have two scheduled posts for the next couple weeks, so stay tuned!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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