Tom Jackson’s Dreamcatcher Tour
A 1999 Article from Canada's SchoolNet Newsletter By Jonn Ord
"The tour is designed to not only promote awareness and empowerment but most importantly to encourage leaders to get involved in the intervention process as it relates to youth suicide."
Tom Jackson is a man of many faces and much talent. Most familiar is the face you may have seen on North of 60. Or perhaps you recognized him in that Star Trek episode where the Cardassians were trying to take over a planet populated by Indigenous people. Or maybe you have seen Tom’s Huron Carole Tour that appears across the country around Christmas time. Well even if you have seen ALL those faces, you most likely will not have seen Tom Jackson as director and star of the Dreamcatcher tour, even though Dreamcatcher has now visited numerous Native communities across Canada for three years. There are good reasons for this.
The Dreamcatcher tour is a very personal expression of the commitment Tom Jackson feels to Native communities across Canada which are struggling to deal with the many issues that all Native people face in Canada today. The idea of the tour was born after a colleague of Tom’s on the set of North of 60 failed to show up for work one day. He didn’t show up because he had committed suicide, - an event which profoundly affected Tom and other cast members.
Tom began to find out as much as he could about suicide and suicide prevention. As a result of this he developed the Dreamcatcher tour which provides a platform from which Tom can deliver some heartfelt words of wisdom about suicides in Native communities. Tom notes that suicide is not a part of Native culture and is something that must be exorcised and resisted. In fact, until the cultural influences of Europeans began to affect traditional ways of life, Canada’s First Nations did not have a word for suicide in their vocabulary.
In the last 10 years, the rate of suicide in the Native population has escalated alarmingly, sometimes reaching quadruple the rate in mainstream society.
Communication is the tool for prevention, among the community or between a young person and someone they can trust or look up to. Tom urges young people to talk to a friend and encourages everyone to reach out to anyone they feel may be having a problem. After his message is delivered, along with some humorous anecdotes, Tom introduces the first of several well known artists who produce a great concert, backed up by Tom’s band. At the end of the second set, Tom appears and wraps up the evening with own set of bluesy country rock.
KIDS FROM KA-NA-TA (KFK) is an Internet-based educational project that uses modern technology to develop communications and friendships between Native and non-Native students. KFK has been operating in schools across Canada for seven years and has connected over six thousand Native and non-Native students.
During the early days of the project, participants were confronted with a series of tragic suicides in the Native community of Big Cove, NB. At that time there were five classrooms in that community each partnered with two classes across Canada. According to the supervising teacher at Big Cove, the electronic communications became an important support infrastructure for the students at the school. The community was isolated, access was blocked and during a time of great depression and sadness, the students eagerly looked forward to reading the messages from their new-found friends who were doing their best to send them words of encouragement and good cheer.
Based on this and other experiences, the KIDS
FROM KA-NA-TA team proposed
to Tom Jackson that multi-media technologies such as those used by
could significantly enhance the work of Dreamcatcher. This
be achieved by adding support networks to allow the communities
ways to follow up on the message of Dreamcatcher after the tour
It would also provide a way for people to stay in touch with Tom and
communities on the Tour.
As a key part of this support the Kids Help Phone Foundation (KHP) provided the telephone and Web-based resources of their network. KHP is a national organization which provides access to professional counselors and round the clock telephone support for young people in distress or crisis. As well there are online, moderated discussion groups where young people can talk about problems and challenges they are facing in their lives. Kids Help Phone counselors were already responding to numerous calls from Native youth and this was a good opportunity to increase awareness of the service among Native communities.
A team from KIDS FROM KA-NA-TA and Kids Help Phone was assembled to join Tom Jackson on the Tour. Two people from KIDS FROM KA-NA-TA and two from Kids Help Phone duly arrived at Oka, Québec, on May 7, 1999, to see the show at the Kanesatake Mohawk community. In the following paragraphs the KFK team shares the experience of travelling with the tour.
On Site with Tom Jackson
When we arrived at about 5pm, there was already a lot of action at the site. The two big green and red busses were parked at the back of the hall along with the equipment truck, and the crew was busy making last minute adjustments to the stage setup, sound system, light show etc. There was an air of excitement in the hall and by about 6:30 there were lots of people milling around. We were impressed with the way the Mohawk Tribal Police assisted with directing traffic and spectators and yet clearly maintained a very friendly and informal attitude with community members and young children. Attending the event were people of all ages including families with kids and community leaders. The Tour is put together with key sponsorships which cover major costs. This means that community leaders are able to take the initiative to mount the show and direct all the proceeds from admission back into the community.
Part of our reason for attending the presentations was to take pictures of the tour and community for the Web site which we did, using both a regular video camera and an Epson digital still camera.
The show begins with Tom appearing casually on stage (to much applause). During a few minutes of introduction, jokes and general chatter, he notes that while he is certainly there to put on a great show for the community, his real purpose is contained on the back of the handout flyer where there is a phone number and a Web address. He goes on to talk about the Kids Help Phone line — it’s free — the Web page, and the importance of communication and discussion about this very difficult topic of suicide in the community.
We film the presentation and take some still shots as well. After Tom delivers his message, he introduces singer Shannon Gaye who starts right in to the musical part of the show. The band has filed onstage during Tom’s presentation. The mood of the show is lighthearted and upbeat. Following Shannon’s performance, the show continues with a set by Duane Steele, an intermission and a set by Joan Kennedy. For the last segment, Tom takes centre stage and closes the evening with a rousing set of his own. Following the performances, all the performers gather in front of the stage to sign autographs.
In spite of the relaxed atmosphere of the show, the action behind the scenes is anything but relaxed. This is a show that has to keep moving to visit 14 communities from Truro, NS to Port Alberni, BC in about 21 days. It is well organized and efficient and Tour Road Manager Marvin Terhoch keeps things moving and is never far from the action.
We had to be pretty efficient ourselves, just to get from one location to the next, locate and check into a new hotel, find the concert venue, feed ourselves and keep our equipment in good working order four days in a row! We had hoped to upload daily summaries of pictures and text from each location but we found it difficult to establish reliable Internet connections from most of the hotel/motel rooms. In most cases we were making a long-distance call and lost the connection after a short time. Our best success was late at night.
We followed the Dreamcatcher to three more locations, Nippissing First Nation in North Bay, Whitefish Lake First Nation in Sudbury, and Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. While the show stays basically the same, the communities are all different — different Tribes, different ages and stages, but all have a decided enthusiasm for Tom Jackson and the Tour. One hopes that they are also equally receptive to the mission of the tour, and as Tom says in all seriousness, he hopes that every single one of them will be alive & well to see him on his next visit.
The sponsors for the Dreamcatcher tour are :
AFN, Trans Canada Pipeline, Petro Canada, Royal Bank, Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
The sponsors for our mini-project are:
Schoolnet, Apple Canada, Epson Canada, Faculty of Education at York University, Terran Interactive Technology, KIDS FROM KA-NA-TA, Kids Help Phone and Tomali Pictures Ltd.