Pictured clockwise is Marlene Swift

Pictured clockwise is Marlene Swift

Whispers in the Wind conference in April

Keynote speakers at Whispers in the Wind will share their stories of getting on the right path.

In under a month keynote speakers for the Whispers in the Wind conference will aspire to help youth in the region make positive choices, sharing their stories of getting on the right path.

Since first reporting on the Conference earlier this month, The Northern View sat down with two more of the conference’s keynote speakers to discuss why inspiring youth is critical to them.

“Each of our stories will hopefully provide motivation for young people that despite some of their circumstances, as tough as they may appear to be in the moment, you can also break out,” Cst. Matt Ericson from the Prince Rupert RCMP and one of four Whispers in the Wind speakers said.

Prince Rupert’s Vern Barker spent most of his life on the wrong path, finally changing his life for the better four years ago. Barker grew up in a village and was the victim of physical and sexual abuse and felt he had no one to turn to. As he grew older he depended on substances to forget the pain, and struggled to control his anger. Barker was affiliated with a gang in his past, and said some of the memories still haunt him in his dreams.

“I have to get myself in a good place when I wake up, and it’s probably something I’ll have to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

Barker also spent time in provincial jail and recalls being told he was the “most dangerous and manipulative person” by one of the toughest guys in the joint. Barker shared stories of his past with fellow inmates, and brought many to tears.

Before straightening his life out, Barker even wound up living on Main and Hastings, Vancouver’s roughest area.

“I never thought I would end up living on the street,” he said.

Barker now works with high-risk youth at Prince Rupert Aboriginal Community Services and says helping young people is crucial to him because many times the pain people carry with them stems from childhood; As it did for him.

Samantha Jackson grew up in Prince Rupert, and in the past drank a lot of alcohol and did drugs to pass time with people she considered to be her friends. Since Jackson has turned her life around after realizing her behaviour wasn’t productive for her life plan.

“Everyone thinks there’s nothing to do in Prince Rupert, but there is…You don’t have to resort to alcohol or drugs just to fit in with people,” she said.

However, before getting on the right track Jackson spent years in an abusive relationship thinking it wasn’t abnormal because she grew up hearing her mother be the victim of abuse.

“Even just hearing it, kids do follow into that path because they think it’s normal…Kids need to learn they can follow their own path,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she will educate youth and adults on the cycle of abusive relationships during her speech at Whispers in the Wind.

All involved with organizing the conference are aiming to advise youth that they are not alone, and there are people that will help them.

“Being First Nations, it seems like we don’t ask for help when we need it… I never asked for help,” Barker said, adding there’s no shame in talking about feelings or the past.

“If you want to live and be happy you’ve got to take proper steps to make yourself healthy. The first step is being able to acknowledge what happened has happened,” he said.

Jackson also said she hopes people learn it’s important to talk about emotions, but also hopes they can learn to forgive.

“Sometimes people hold on to things for too long,” she said, adding it’s important to move on for yourself.

“My thoughts and my memories keep me humble. Forgiveness allows me to move forward,” Barker added.

Barker and Jackson continue to move forward with their lives, with both going on to get an education and stay away from substances.

While the conference’s focus is on youth, Marlene Swift, chair of the Human Trafficking Committee, hopes adults learn to not be judgmental toward those struggling in their lives in the presentation to the community as a whole.

“Somebody out there cared about me enough to pick up the phone and tell me to put down my drink. It was the starting point for me… It’s important for people when they see other individuals struggling to realize that’s a human being,” she said.

Whispers in the Wind’s schedule has changed since The Northern View last reported on the conference. Prince Rupert’s presentations will now take place on April 23, with a presentation to youth taking place during the afternoon and to the community as a whole in the evening. Keynote speakers will then visit Kitkatla and Harley Bay on April 24.