Devin Bellerose is a certified addictions counsellor, traditional drummer and dancer, and cross-cultural teacher. He is now the Slave Lake coordinator for Community Helpers.
Community Helpers is a province wide program to help decrease the number of suicides. It focuses on giving people who are already working with youth and other people at risk the tools they need to recognize and listen when someone is considering suicide.
Studies have found that youth are more likely to talk openly with someone they trust than formal resources, says Bellerose.\
Community Helpers is an AHS program, but is housed out of various community organizations. In Slave Lake, the Native Friendship Centre hosts it.
Bellerose was talking to executive Director Barb Courtorielle about something else, when she asked him if he’d be interested in the position.
Bellerose was working as a freelance cultural consultant travelling around the province and working with various school boards to increase Indigenous awareness.
As some of Bellerose’s children are quite young, he liked the idea of being more settled. His children range from two to 19 years old.
“I love the idea,” Bellerose says. “Community Helpers is about identifying individuals who young people naturally gravitate toward (to tell their problems and giving them) skills to deal with those problems.”
Bellerose is a member of Driftpile Cree Nation. Right out of high school, he wrote a proposal to teach traditional dancing to kids over the summer in Driftpile. The program was a success, with 28 kids participating and a final show for the community.
Bellerose has worked with kids off and on every since.
Bellerose didn’t grow up on reserve. He lived in Calgary, Edmonton, and other places, but mostly in Calgary.
When he was twelve, someone at school asked him about Indigenous culture, and he didn’t know the answer. He asked his mom to take him to a powwow. They went to one in Morley, by Calgary.
At the powwow, Bellerose started out dancing with his cousin in the inter-tribal dances.
Inter-tribal dancers don’t need regalia.
However, Bellerose got into the dance and started to make up his own steps, so his cousin stopped dancing with him.
This was Bellerose’s first introduction to traditional dancing and culture. He got his first pair of moccasins at the powwow and started learning traditional dancing.
“My mom says, I had to leave the reserve for my kids to find culture,” Bellerose says.
In Calgary during high school, Bellerose attended the Plains Indian Cultural Survival. This is a high school initiative which has traditional drumming, etc. for high school credits.
“It was an amazing experience,” Bellerose says.
“When we started a family, we thought it valuable and important for our children to know where they come from,” Bellerose said.
Bellerose and his family moved to Driftpile. They planned on being there a short while, but stayed for a long time.
“I drum,” Bellerose said. “All my sons drum.”
His 18 year old son has his own drum group called “Young, wild, and Cree”. The drummers range in age from 12 to 18.
Asked why he went into addictions counselling, Bellerose says. “I’ve been told I’m a good listener. I still continue to listen whole heartedly.”
When Bellerose was in politics in Driftpile, he was known for always being late, since he’d get sidetracked by someone wanting to speak with him on the way to meetings.
Bellerose started with Community Helpers at the end August. He is organizing a men’s wellness conference on October 4 and 5.
“I love coordinating,” Bellerose says. “I’ve coordinated a number of different conferences and powwows.”
The conference will include some local speakers. Tim Horsman from AHS is the coordinator for the Arctic Winter Games. The hope is for him to lead some traditional games at the beginning of the conference.
Robbie Cotes from CrossFit is going to share about battling depression with exercise.
October 8, 9 and 10th, Bellerose meets with other Community Helpers around the province. He’s been asked to share about Indigenous culture.