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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Honouring the 2016 Chapin A’sin Elder Vern Harper Award Recipient

Toronto, August 3, 2016 - ​The Chapin A’sin Elder Vern Harper Award for Excellence in the Provision of Culturally-Based Practice was first awarded five years ago. Since that time, CAMH has recognized a number of deserving First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals for excellence in the provision of culturally-based practice and their contribution to the healing and well-being of Aboriginal people.

The 2016 award recipient is John Rice, Zahgausgai “Sun Ray/ Bear Clan” from Wasauksing First Nation. John currently works for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Simcoe County where he is the first traditional healer to be employed by the organization.

“I was humbled when I found out and really appreciative of the people who nominated me,” said John. “I know Vern personally and the work he’s done so for me to receive an award named after him means a lot.”

Vern Harper Award recipient 2016John receives the award and a beautiful painting by William Anthony Monague of Beausoleil First Nation. From left to right: Germaine Elliot, Mental Health Program Coordinator, Enaahtig Aboriginal Community Mental Health Program; John Rice; Renee Linklater, Director of Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach, CAMH; Holly Laforge, FNMI Youth Outreach Worker, CMHA; Caroline Recollet, Aboriginal Engagement Lead, CAMH; Céleste Lalonde, Regional Implementation Coordinator, CAMH.

Colleagues reflected on the scope of John’s work and contributions, and wondered how he does it all.

“You never hear him turn down a request to speak, to hold a workshop, a ceremony, counsel, or whatever the need of the people may be that day,” said Holly Laforge, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Youth Outreach Worker, CMHA.

Beyond his work with the Early Psychosis Program at CMHA, John works in the region with the Enaahtig Mental Health Outreach Program, and local First Nations communities including Mnjikaning­the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, as well as Chimnissing-Beausoleil First Nation. He also supports local Friendship Centres and any other First Nations, Inuit, and Métis organizations that require his assistance.

When asked where he gets the energy, John replied with a chuckle, “A good night’s sleep.”

It’s that health and life promotion mentality that contributed in part to John’s nomination. He helped co-develop and facilitate training in Simcoe County called Feather Carriers: Leadership for Life, which has received international attention in its early stages. The program was born out of the need for more than direct suicide intervention techniques in local reserve communities.

“Preventing suicide is one aspect, but the community wanted a comprehensive approach that would encourage people to live longer,” he explained. “You can encourage health in your community in other ways; maybe you have a specialty like healthy eating – you are a life promoter.”

John has been involved with the Aboriginal community in northeast Ontario for over 30 years. Caroline Recollet, Aboriginal Engagement Lead in the Provincial Support System Program’s Sudbury office, noted John’s “incredible ability to weave and harmonize Traditional Knowledge and Teachings into mainstream work. Recently he facilitated a dialogue on the ways he incorporates traditional teachings into the mainstream Transition to Independence Model with Aboriginal youth."

 “Through his life’s work, John Rice has been a leader in community wellness and we are honoured to recognize the significant contributions that he has made,” said Renee Linklater, Director of Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach at CAMH.

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