Voices of Creative Advocacy: Tristin Severns

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Voices of Creative Advocacy: Tristin Severns

Note: editors of the Weekly MashUp will be attending CMHACY this week. We look forward to bringing you a special edition of the WMU when we return. 


On April 29th, we hosted our kick off to Mental Health Awareness Month event, Creative Advocacy, in San Francisco. We honored five youth and adult advocates for their work to improve the lives of young people with mental health needs. At the event, each awardee shared why mental health matters to them with over 100 guests. We’ll be sharing their inspiring messages of hope and determination throughout the month of May on our blog–because they’re messages worth spreading. 

Tristin Severs, Young Leader Awardee

Tristin Severns, Young Leader Awardee, and Jamie Lee Evans, Community Catalyst Awardee, pose together. Photo credit: Natalia Santanna

Hello, I’m Tristin Severns. I’m here today to receive this amazing award from Young Minds Advocacy and to feel the blessings of all of you here.

Before giving my thanks to all of the people and organizations that have supported me to get to this place in my life, I want to take a little time to explain what mental health looks like for an Indigenous person.

To many people these days when they talk about mental health it is a diagnosis, a disorder, or a barrier. It is something that you have to fix — with therapy, pills, or institutions. Mental health is viewed as an individual struggle for a single person; Something wrong or different about that one person.

As an Indigenous person I feel that those beliefs about mental health are wrong. What is labeled as a disorder or barrier is actually a tool or gift from Creator. Often on this colonized continent we don’t understand these gifts, but if we took the time as a people, a community, a village we could work together to make sure that everyone’s gifts are used, and that no one is made to be an isolated disorder.

2017 Creative Advocacy Awardees from left to right: Tristin Severns, Jamie Lee Evans, Nadia Ghaffari, and Tisha Ortiz. Photo credit: Natalia Santanna.

Growing up, I didn’t have a strong village. The few times I ever started to feel like I did, it was swiftly taken away from me. Through the years, I developed what many call a mental illness. I was slowly dragged down to a dark place. I was alone and had no village to help me. When I had something bad happen to me, losing my son, I had no one to support me. This loneliness and disconnection dragged me to almost taking my life many times. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a mental hospital, remembering what old gun powder taste like in the dark, that I saw a sign. I had looked up and saw the stars appear out of the cloudy sky.

I felt my son, even though I never had the chance to hold him, play with him, or tell him I love him. I saw that he was with me the whole time and knew how I felt and showed me I had a village this whole time, even if it was small — a single star.

After that dark night, I left my village, grew more and more, and I found some of the most amazing, most powerful people. I learned how to be an advocate, both for my culture and for other youth. I took the time to try and show people that they have a village too and they’re not alone. This is what leadership means to me: being able to recognize where each person fits in your village and to help them not be alone. Being a leader is opening yourself to guidance and accepting it, whether it is from your elders, your peers, or from the stars. A leader weaves a net, using culture, community, and any other tool available to mend trauma and support those in need, uplifting future generations and honoring the past.

I want to honor my past, those who showed me how to be a leader and heal. I honor my mother, aunties, and sisters. I honor my brothers, uncles, and cousins. I honor HCTAYC, my staff and my peers. And I honor my son. I would also like to honor the present — all the people I see here today. I’d like to thank all of you because what I see right now is my village and the village of so many others that know hardship. May all of our villages grow exponentially

wo-klow wo-klow wo-klow thank you.


We hope to see those of you attending CMHACY this year at our Thursday, May 18 workshops: 
Setting the Agenda: Recommendations for California’s Children Mental Health Policy Agenda in 2017 and Beyond at 1:30 PM in Scripps.
Mindful Engagement: Increasing Youth Presence and Power On California’s Mental Health Boards? at 3:30 PM in room C3.

By |2019-04-24T14:33:09-08:00May 16th, 2017|Community Voices, Featured Posts|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tristin Severns
Tristin Severns, 20, is an Indigenous Person of Humboldt County and a member of the Yurok Nation. He identifies as a survivor of generational trauma and genocide and believes in advocating for himself and his people to end the cycles of systematic abuse plaguing his people in the forms of violence, neglect, addiction, trauma, and erasure of Indigenous Identities. Tristin believes that voicing the lived experience of native people and bringing awareness to their struggles, we can help heal the wounds brought by colonization. He believes that tradition, ceremony, cultural practice, humor, and connection are ways to heal. He is a part of the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC) Youth Advisory Board and enjoys connecting with his peers and other cultures that have a part of his community.