Indigenous learners get training in life-saving skills in Ottawa pilot project

Five young Indigenous people from across Canada have been learning first aid and CPR in Ottawa. It's part of a pilot project aimed at spreading First Aid skills to Indigenous communities. The program is funded through private donations but organizers hope Ottawa will take notice.

Organizers hope government will get involved in program teaching first aid, CPR

Elizabeth Bradley, left, demonstrates CPR at a St. John Ambulance training course in Ottawa, last Thursday. Indigenous students are being trained in first aid so they can share that information in their home communities. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

A pilot project in Ottawa is teaching life-saving skills to a small group of young Indigenous people from across Canada. The goal is to train them in first aid and CPR so they can go back to their communities and eventually pass those skills on to more people.

"Emergencies happen a lot more on the reserve," said Elizabeth Bradley, a student from the Six Nations Reserve in Southern Ontario who is taking part in the course.

"You realize that a lot of people don't know how to respond to these types of situations."

Another student, Jaylon Atagootak from Yellowknife, says he wanted to get involved in the project, in part, because of an experience he had as a child. When he was just seven, he had to help rescue his father after his father's snowmobile hit a tree.

"The snowmobile was still able to run but his leg was just totally demolished," Atagootak said.

"He had to wrap it up real tight. And I had to get him back in the kamotik [sled] and reverse out and get him out of there. It was hard, actually. But getting him to safety was the ultimate goal. He instructed me to do that."

Jaylon Atagootak from Yellowknife, N.W.T., recalled having to help his father after a snowmobile accident. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

The five participants, who come from Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Labrador, received five days training with St. John Ambulance in Ottawa.

"There are so few people who have ever taken first aid in Indigenous communities. It's something that we have to get done," said Allan Bird, director of the national office of the St. John Canada Foundation.

With further courses, the participants in this pilot project can qualify as first aid instructors. The idea is for them to offer training free of charge to people in their communities.

Training trainers

The long-term goal is to train Indigenous instructors who can not only teach first aid, but also teach other Indigenous people to become trainers. The hope is to create a cascading effect that will eventually make first aid knowledge and instruction available in even the most remote communities.

"That's where it's needed. We get a local [person] who is taught and they can teach their own community," said Kellyann Meloche, emergency manager at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, near Montreal.

Meloche has been leading first aid classes for more than two years and is hoping to qualify soon to train other instructors.

"You have no idea how much of a need it is," Meloche said.

"In our communities, especially the remote communities, it's imperative to have this type of stuff."

The five people who took part in the pilot project were chosen by Indspire, a national charity that promotes education in Indigenous communities. The project was paid for with money raised by Dr. Michael Dan, who serves on the Indspire board of directors. He is also a member of the Order of Canada and a philanthropist who has donated millions of dollars to Indigenous health research.

"This is the fulfilment of a dream," Dan said.

Dr. Michael Dan helped raise $200,000 to fund a pilot project that trains Indigenous students in first aid and CPR. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

While Dan has raised $200,000 for the project, he hopes government will get involved. Funding first aid training, he said, could save money in the long run.

"I'm hoping the federal government looks at this program and then they look at the cost of an air ambulance evacuation from Labrador, for example, which could easily be $20,000 to $40,000, and they say, you know, if we train just a few people in that community in first aid, maybe we could save one flight per year and that would cover the cost of training the entire community."