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CHETWYND, B.C. – One step at a time – that’s how communities come together to begin dismantling the stigma of mental illness, says Chetwynd’s Stan Fraser.

And Fraser still has millions to go as he embarks on his longest walk yet from Bella Coola to Winnipeg starting May 29, a 2,700 km journey crafted with the intention to raise awareness at the national level.  

He says it’s critically important that people know they should never be afraid to talk about mental illness and addictions, or even just their daily struggles in life. His goal – prevent tragedies like suicide and unnecessary police interventions.

“Silence is not a solution anymore,” he says. “Let your voice be heard, talk to people. Shame, there’s no such thing in my category anymore.”

Last Friday, Fraser and his friends and family were out for a walk at Moberly Lake, five kilometres started at Crowfeathers station and ended with a barbeque at the New Beginnings House at Saulteau First Nation, an indigenous health and wellness gathering space. 

It was a small stroll, but an important one, said Fraser, thanking friends and family for taking the time to be present.

“I’m touched by the different stories I hear, the things that people are going through, and this is what it’s all about: people,” he said. “Not to be ashamed about mental health and how it affects you, and how we can help one another, give strength to one another.”

Fraser has been a mental health advocate since 2016, open with talking about his past as a troubled young man: addicted to drugs and sleeping on the streets, ashamed of his indigenous identity and heritage, unsure of where he belonged.

“I didn’t even belong on skid row – where in the hell do I belong?” he said. “I didn’t belong within my society, I was different than my family, I was different in school, I was different in a lot of things. I couldn’t find a place where I belonged.”

But 41 years ago, Fraser says he got a wake-up call, shocked into changing his life after accidentally endangering his daughter. He’s been sober ever since and reconnecting with his First Nation roots.

“My life is an open book, I have no more shame – I’m not ashamed of where I came from, I’m not ashamed of where I’ve been,” he said. “Nor am I proud of all the things that I’ve done, I made mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes.

“But today, this is not a mistake.”

Mary Doyle, health and recreation coordinator for Saulteau, says she’s glad to have met Fraser and has hiked often with him as part of their informal rec group – the Hiking Sistas, plus one.  

“Last year, just a small group of us started hiking and we had been introduced to Stan, he’s our plus one,” she said. “It’s a great group of people, there were just nine of us, but now there’s 25.”

Fraser says the walk isn’t just about his life, it’s about everyone impacted by mental health and addictions. He says anyone struggling with alcohol and drugs is welcome to reach out to him on social media.

“This is about mental health, this is about us, this is about a community, this is about helping one another,” he said.

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Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News

Tom Summer is a Peace Region journalist and has been covering the courts and more in the pages of the Alaska Highway News and Dawson Creek Mirror since 2016. Born and raised in Hudson's Hope, he's also one of the first reporters to take part in the Local Journalism Initiative, delivering news to communities in Northeast BC. Funding is available to eligible Canadian media organizations to hire journalists or pay freelance journalists to produce civic journalism for The content produced...