GFPS and Warrior Health Society emphasize mental health

T.J. IronBear
Dugan Coburn
Posted at 5:40 PM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 10:09:28-04

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls Public Schools is talking about the importance of mental health to its indigenous students.

To some, it’s Columbus Day, for others, it’s Indigenous People’s Day. President Biden initiated in 2021 that Columbus Day be recognized as Indigenous People’s Day, in honor of the America’s longest ancestors.

“In the past, winners have written history. And I think in order to really get an understanding of who we are, we got to have the truth come out,” said TJ IronBear, Youth Development Specialist for the Great Falls Public School system.

He added, “It's very important for everyone, especially the non-natives, to understand that just because a day is called Columbus Day or for whatever reason, that there's definitely a lot more history behind it. And it needs to be told, and now's the perfect time to do it.” IronBear said.

“W say every day is Indigenous Persons Day, but this is one that's recognized across the community. So that's what makes it important, is that for our kids to understand that this is the day that recognizes that we've been here for so long and that we can celebrate it with everybody else,” said Dugan Coburn, Director of Indian Education for Great Falls Public Schools.

GFPS and Warrior Health Society teamed up in educating indigenous and non-indigenous youth about the strains men must face to be "masculine" - that it’s okay to not be okay.

Within the Great Falls Public School system there are 60 tribes represented - a total of 1,680 Native American students. Suicide remains the leading cause of death among indigenous men and is the second leading killer among indigenous high school boys.

“Suicide is such an important topic we want to address it for our kids in our community,” explained Coburn.

Each student participated in activities with local health agencies, gathering information regarding mental health, and creating a safety plan in case of a crisis and contemplating suicide. The safety allows a person to better get to know themselves and to be prepared in case mental health goes south.

The day wasn’t entirely serious. Prizes, laughter, and indigenous games were played. One Paris Gibson Education Center student was the star of the show. Natosi St. Goddord was one of the guest speakers, giving classmates and students a depiction that struggle is a part of human nature. Natosi has loss, addiction and substance abuse throughout his family. That doesn’t stop him from helping others.

“When you talk about something you never talked about, you really you do feel so much better. I think even if you do end up crying and even if you do end up crying, it, that's probably the best part because you've got that weight off your shoulders.” He said.

To download a copy of the Warrior Health Society Safety Plan, click here.

Vendors that participated in the day:

  • United Way
  • Alliance for Youth
  • Alluvion Health
  • Great Falls Public Library
  • IFHC
  • Little Shell Tribe
  • Many Rivers Whole Health
  • Benefis Health System
  • GFPS Counseling Program
  • Helena Indian Alliance/ITGS
  • GFPS Therapists