Nfld. & Labrador

'Hope in the Darkness' walk for youth mental health starts at Cape Spear

Indigenous police officer Kevin Redsky started his national walk for youth mental health with help from the strong North Atlantic winds at Cape Spear, N.L., Sunday morning.

From east to west, two groups to meet in Winnipeg to shine light on youth mental health

Chief John Syrette, left, and Sgt. Kevin Redsky hope the walk for youth mental health will help change the relationship between Indigenous youth and police officers like them. (CBC/Katie Breen)

Indigenous police officer Kevin Redsky started his national walk for youth mental health with help from the strong North Atlantic winds at Cape Spear, N.L., on Sunday morning. 

Redsky will cover the roughly 4,000 kilometres to Winnipeg, where his team will meet another team setting off from British Columbia. 

"Our interpretation of everything that we are doing is that we want to bring everyone together, to the centre of Canada, which is in Winnipeg," Redsky said.

Redsky says he's been a police officer with a self-administered First Nations service for 15 years, and has seen plenty of struggles in that time. (CBC/Katie Breen)

The initiative, titled Hope in the Darkness Walk for Youth Mental Health, is rooted in very personal experience. 

"In 2013 we lost our niece to suicide," Redsky said Sunday morning before embarking on his journey. 

"She was in the system in Winnipeg, we were unable to bring her home, she suffered loss of identity — cultural, family — and unfortunately she had a rough go of it."

'Just here to listen'

A couple of years later, inspired by his experience as a sergeant with the Anishinabek Police Service in Garden River, Ont., Redsky decided to go for a walk to bring attention to the issue of youth mental health. 

I myself lived through struggles at an early age so I could relate to what they're dealing with.- Sgt. Kevin Redsky

"I've come to see a lot out there, I've worked the northern communities, I've witnessed the struggles youth have daily," he said.

Redsky is from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation in Northern Ontario himself. 

"I myself lived through struggles at an early age so I could relate to what they're dealing with."

Redsky, left, and Syrette started the Hope in the Darkness Walk for youth mental health Sunday morning at Cape Spear, N.L. (CBC/Katie Breen)

He said the hope is for young people to come out, engage through social media, and get talking about what's on their minds as he fears they haven't been heard in the past. 

"We're just here to listen. We want to hear their stories, we want to share our stories, we want to hear their struggles, and we want to send that message out on a national level," he said. 

Changing the view of police

Redsky also wants to change their perception of police. He said too often young people are standoffish and see police as being there just to arrest them or someone they love. 

"Us doing this, it'll change that perception, where they can trust us and they can rely on us to look out for their well-being."

It is a sentiment John Syrette, chief of the self-administered First Nation police service, echoed. 

We have to heal ourselves, and we have to heal our communities.- Chief John Syrette

"The history of police and First Nations especially isn't a good one," he said, joining Redsky on the walk from North America's most easterly point. 

"I'm hoping events like this and efforts like this on our part will really convince kids that when they need help – when I was a kid, when you needed help you went to see the cops, they were there to help you," said Syrette. 

Syrette came to Newfoundland and Labrador to join Redsky on his national walk for youth mental health. (CBC/Katie Breen)
​With support from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and RCMP as well, Syrette said they're trying to lead the charge to garner more support. 

With files from Katie Breen