June 23, 2024

Serene Nest

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Mental-health services for Indigenous paramedics in Quebec

3 min read

A national mental health service provider will be offering help to an Indigenous paramedic service on the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake, north of Montreal, and neighbouring communities.

Wounded Warriors Canada (WWC) says its partnership with the First Nations Paramedic Service (FNP) is its first in Quebec, and first with an Indigenous organization.

Robert Bonspiel, the president of FNP, calls it a “landmark partnership.”

“Our paramedics, serving the Kanesatake Mohawk Territory and neighbouring communities, encounter challenges that go beyond the physical,” Bonspiel said. “This collaboration not only acknowledges the unique mental health needs arising from their dedicated service but also paves the way for a more supportive and understanding environment.”

Watson Toye has been a paramedic for over 30 years and says the partnership with WWC is a “weight off our shoulders.”

“When there’s a fire or a big situation happens, while everyone runs away, we’re the ones running in and we don’t take care of ourselves, we think of helping other people,” he said. “We’re human like everybody else, we suffer but they always tell us to hide it, we’re not supposed to hide it.”

It started with Bonspiel reaching out to WWC because he says during his career, he didn’t have this kind of support following traumatic calls.

Robert Bonspiel, president of First Nations Paramedics (Credit: Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

“I was back to work within 24 hours after the events and nowadays it’s unheard of,” he said. “I always said to myself, if I’m in a position where I can change that and give them the tools that’s necessary so that they feel better, I’m going to do that.”

Paramedics like Toye say the toll of the calls are often difficult, dealing with many life and death situations.

“Sometimes just loud sounds for me, I couldn’t sleep at night,” he said. “Hearing tires screeching gives me a flashback, we’re not Superman.”

“Even if every day is not a tough call, those tough calls do come and it’s good to have the proper resources to deal with them and know how to deal with them in advance,” says paramedic, Emilie Darrigade.

Counselling, trauma-informed workplace training and psychoeducation are just some of the services that will now be offered to them and their families. 

Scott Maxwell, the executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, at event in Kanesatake Jan. 23, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews)

Scott Maxwell, the executive director of WWC, called it “historic.”

“The need that exists amongst first responders from a mental health, stress, injury perspective, is uniform, consistent across the country,” Maxwell said. “So in terms of what we do and how we do it, nothing changes. But in terms of the reach and making sure we’re serving the country and serving first responders in the province of Quebec, today is a milestone day for our organization.”

WWC offers mental-health support for trauma-exposed professionals like veterans, first responders and their families – in both official languages.

Bonspiel says he’s now hoping this partnership will inspire other first responder services to offer more resources.

“The situations we face break most people, probably break us a little bit as well,” he said. “But we can heal from them, as long as we have proper support.”

Vertical banner for First Nations Paramedic Service (FNP) at event in Kanesatake Jan. 23, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews)

“We’re setting a precedent in Canada for trauma-informed care that respects and addresses the distinctive experiences of Indigenous First Responders and their families,” Bonspiel said. “This is a step forward in honouring their bravery and resilience, and in fostering a community of healing and strength.”

Scott Maxwell of Wounded Warriors Canada speaks at event in Kanesatake Jan. 23, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews)
Event in Kanesatake highlighting partnership between Wounded Warriors Canada and First Nations Paramedic Service, Jan. 23, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews)

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