A mobile app designed to connect First Nations people with First Nations Peer Advocates for cultural-based mental health support has recently expanded to include all Indigenous groups in Saskatchewan.

The Talking Stick app was developed by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), in partnership with TryCycle Data Systems and Indigenous Services Canada.

The confidential text-only chat platform was created ‘by First Nations, for First Nations’, and offers peer support in 11 different languages, including Cree syllabics and seven First Nations languages commonly spoken in Saskatchewan, to make the app accessible for all.

The app doesn’t require any personal information to get started and user identities are always kept anonymous.

Users of the Talking Stick app are able to see the details of Peer Advocates that are available to chat, such as which community they belong to, which languages they speak, and their age. Peer Advocates are not healthcare professionals or licensed counsellors, only real people that live in communities across Saskatchewan who have been trained to listen with compassion and respect, according to the Talking Stick app website.

During a presentation at the Metis Nation – Saskatchewan Western Region 2 Centre Thursday, Regional Manager for TryCycle Data Systems Leigh Cote, from the James Smith Cree Nation, said the idea for the Talking Stick app came about following the COVID-19 pandemic, when the FSIN saw that the province’s First Nations people needed extra support.

“With today’s technology, a talking stick is your phone, your laptop or computer. Everybody’s on their phones nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without seeing somebody on their phone and today’s kids, that’s their life,” said Cote. “So having an app on your phone that is so easily accessible, where you can just click and are able to talk to somebody, that’s such a big help.”

The Talking Stick app is only available to residents in Saskatchewan and was originally created with a focus on helping First Nations people, but after realizing that everyone in the province could use the extra support, FSIN decided to expand the platform.

“This app can help anybody, no matter where you come from in Saskatchewan,” added Cote.

MN–S Regional Director of Western Region 2 Sherry McLennan said it’s important to get the word out about programs like the Talking Stick app that are available to help support Metis citizens.

“Anything that can help one person not commit suicide or do whatever they’re thinking in their head, to prevent that and keep them safe, the Metis people are all about helping each other, as are First Nations,” said McLennan. “I think it’s great that we include each other in different aspects of our world because we’re kind of similar, we’re like cousins.”

All of the app’s current Peer Advocates are First Nations people ranging in age from 16 to 81, but members of all Indigenous groups from across the province are invited to apply for the position on the Talking Stick app website. Cote mentioned that they recently hired a few Metis advocates to join the team and are always happy to hear from individuals wanting to get involved.

The Talking Stick app can be downloaded for free off the app store or can be found online at my.talkingstick.app.

The Talking Stick app presentation is just one of many workshops that are hosted at the MN–S cultural centre in Prince Albert. McLennan said the workshops are aimed at bringing together all people, from children to elders, to share knowledge about what’s going on in the world right now.

“You can talk to each other about mental health or about what’s bothering you — relationships, finances,” explained McLennan. “We want to bring education to everybody.”

Having lived in Prince Albert her whole life, McLennan said her love for the community has pushed her to try and help as many people as she can. She added that their phone is always open to anyone looking for support.

By: Bailey Sutherland, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald