Drew Hauck is a youth drop-in coordinator at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, teaching the next generation of Indigenous youth how to approach topics like depression, anxiety, and mental health in a safe environment. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

A new mindset: How one Indigenous man changed the trajectory of his life

Drew Hauck recalls hitting rock bottom after mother’s death due to cancer in 2014

Drew Hauck hit the lowest point in his life when his mom passed away from cancer in 2014.

“I had lost the love of my life and I didn’t care anymore,” said the Victoria man.

Hauck fell into a pit of depression and anxiety so deep that sometimes he wouldn’t leave his house for days at a time. He had hit rock bottom.

The only thought that rung in his ears were the words that his father used to tell him growing up.

“He always told me to suck it up and look past things as a kid,” the now 26-year old said. “When people say, ‘We’ve gone through this, why can’t you get through it?’ it blames the person for feeling how they feel. As a man, I was told to act a certain way. I realized that I was wearing a mask – one that had been covering my emotions for a long time.”

READ MORE: Greater Victoria MP seeks to remove self-harm as disciplinary offence for Canadian Armed Forces

Hauck was born in the northern B.C. town of Chetwynd to his mother of German and Swiss descent and father from the Dené Nation, an aboriginal group that lives in the northern Arctic regions of Canada. He moved to the Lower Mainland at a young age, and his parents divorced during his childhood. He spent most of his teenage years in Abbotsford, but found his way into the wrong crowds and said he abandoned his responsibilities as a son and older brother to his siblings.

As Hauck sat in the hospital over many sleepless nights during his mother’s final days, his life changed. One night, he ran down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat and saw a young girl no older than six in line for the cashier.

The girl asked for a water with the nickels and dimes she had and the cashier said it wasn’t enough. One of the customers behind the girl told her to get out of line.

“I was shocked to see that happen,” Hauck said. “I walked over to her and told her I’d buy anything she wanted.”

That was the initial moment the Victoria man realized he wanted to help the younger generation. Over the next five years, Hauck would upgrade his high school courses, become a motivational speaker and begin his journey to complete a degree in social work at the University of Fraser Valley. He was only a handful of credits away from graduating.

Now, Hauck is a youth drop-in coordinator at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC).

ALSO READ: 60% of Canadian workers would take a pay cut for better mental health support: survey

He’s in charge of organizing after-school activities and events for youth aged 12 through 18. The events include cooking classes, ultimate frisbee and canvas painting. While he may see two to 15 kids on any given day, VNFC’s youth department serves between 90 and 120 youth. There are six outreach support workers on staff, each assigned to 15 to 20 kids. (Please note, the VNFC has temporarily postponed all gatherings and non-essential services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

“It’s tough to watch some of these kids go through the same things that happened to me,” Hauck said. “I’m trying to change the direction of the drop-in so that the kids feel comfortable to talk openly about their problems.”

Hauck has dealt with kids that walk into the centre with new scars on their wrists. He and outreach support workers are always on hand to assess situations before they call authorities or police.

“One thing I never do is say that I understand how they feel,” said Hauck. “We never know what toxic situations they may be in at home. Everyone has their own stories. They just need to know that we are a safe space where they can feel comfortable talking about depression, anxiety, or anything else.”

Many of the referrals or intakes the youth department sees are in immediate need of mental health or trauma services. Whenever waitlists begin forming, they provide referrals to VIHA, Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health and private clinicians.

READ MORE: Saanich police first in B.C. to offer mental health resiliency training

Thirteen Indigenous communities have partnered with YMCA’s around the province to work on the Teen Mind Medicine pilot project since fall 2019. With $300,000 in funds from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the program helps Indigenous youth ages 13 to 19 living with anxiety, worry and stress. Each session begins with a blessing and smudge from an elder, followed by a traditional drum song and weekly check-ins with a talking stick.

Currently, this Indigenous-centric program doesn’t run at YMCA’s in Greater Victoria, as the pilot continues to gather feedback in rural communities before being introduced in urban areas.

Though the federal government has made $679.9 million available to Jordan’s Principle since 2016, Hauck believes two problems still remain: the lack of knowledge and judgment.

Jordan’s Principle is a legal requirement of the federal government resulting from an Order of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal after a young First Nations boy from Manitoba spent his entire life in hospital while caught in an argument between the federal government and Manitoba. The two were arguing over who should pay for the in-home medical care needed for five-year-old Jordan River Anderson to live in his home. The boy died in hospital in 2005.

Between July 2016 and Dec. 31, 2019, more than half a million products, services, and supports helped First Nations kids with mental health services, educational supports, medical equipment, speech therapy and more.

“Not enough Indigenous youth know about the services that are available for them,” Hauck said. He believes by sharing his story to the drop-in youth and through his motivational speaker events, he’s not only preparing the next generation to better deal with mental health, but it’s actually shown him how to be a better man.

“It’s hard not to feel judged when we’re raised being told that depression and anxiety is not acceptable,” Hauck said. “When you feel that way, why would you come forward and speak about it openly? All it takes is to walk through the [Victoria Native Friendship Centre] doors and talk to one person. That’s the first step you have to take. It will be the hardest one, but it’s worth it.”

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