Two-time Sask Polytech graduate Shannon Obey takes the lead in supporting mental health initiatives. (Saskatchewan Polytechnic photo)

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan Polytechnic graduate Shannon Obey is on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children and families affected by substance use disorders. After completing her Early Childhood Education diploma in 2020, Obey worked with children at an Aboriginal Head Start program in Regina. It was during this time that she realized the need to work with families to prevent substance use disorders before they develop.

“I was working so hard with a child on helping them be successful, then I realized they’re going home to the same challenging environment. It was hard for me to accept,” she explains. “I wanted a job that would allow me to work not only with children but also with their families.” Determined to make a greater impact Obey decided to enter Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program.

As a child, Obey was taken from her kokum (grandmother) and put into foster care before returning to the care of her mother. Drawing from personal experience, Obey understands the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction to support individuals and families through recovery.

“I am eight years in recovery,” she shares. “As I went through Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program I started putting it into my perspective, my own upbringing. It’s taught me quite a bit about my own internal issues. As I went along my education journey, I realized I was missing my culture.”

Obey’s education at Sask Polytech helped her renew her cultural identity as she connected with an Elder through the ê-sihtoskâtoyahk ᐁᓯᐦᑐᐢᑲᑐᔭᐦᐠ Indigenous students’ centre (Cree for strengthening/ supporting each other). Throughout her clinical, Obey had the opportunity to work in an Indigenous treatment centre, which provided additional knowledge and cultural experiences. Motherhood has also been a source of motivation to reconnect as her daughter started asking questions about the Saulteaux culture. Together they continued to learn about their cultural heritage, including the Saulteaux language.

In her current job, Obey provides post-treatment counselling to individuals who have finished the Pine Lodge Addiction Recovery program in Regina and now reside in a sober living home. She is also a peer advocate for the Talking Stick, a free anonymous app for Indigenous people who need someone to talk to. Peer advocates communicate through messaging to provide guidance and support to people in real-time. As part of her involvement with Talking Stick, Obey went to Ottawa to share her experience as a peer advocate.

“I shared my most impactful conversation which happened to be with a young child. As difficult as it was to understand this child, I knew I needed to help them to safety by writing in simple language and having a lot of patience. Some children may not have the comprehension to pick up a phone and seek help, so it is important to be able to provide a safe place,” she explains.

Published in | To read the full story, we encourage you to visit: Making a difference in addiction recovery