Ryan Hanna

A Warrior’s Path to Wellness: Tradesman Ryan Hanna Builds a Healthier Future

“My passion is for being up here in the north and on land,”  says Ryan Hanna. He’s 43 years old and grew up most of his life in Fort Simpson. Now, he lives in Hay River with his wife, Suzanne. For almost twenty years he was a wildland firefighter, worked in the trades and in oil and gas. He loves hunting and goes to the East Arm almost every season.   

Currently, Hanna is taking time off as part of his healing journey of sobriety but he’s been working as an apprentice welder. He enjoys his work but taking the time to get healthy is important to him. “I need to do this because I’d like to live the next chapter of my life on the path of the warrior, taking it as a sober person, raising my children and seeing that their futures are set,” he reflects, quick to note he doesn’t want to sound cheesy, but that’s how he feels. 

Growing up he had a lot of street smarts and he learned early how to manage his money so he wasn’t living pay cheque to pay cheque. It’s a skill he would like to see more people in the North learn and he’s encouraged to see it becoming part of the curriculum in schools. He’s teaching his kids life skills too so they remember that beyond just learning to prepare food, it’s important to plan to be able to purchase food and have a plan for the week ahead. 

Planning to be on time is something else he tries to teach as a father. “Time management is not just being punctual but being on schedule for time is a good habit for when you're going to work... It's always good to be there ahead of time because you know what's going to happen instead of struggling and being a guy that has to catch up,” he reflects. 

People skills are important to Hanna, and he wants to instill that in his kids. “When it comes to elders, I always find that it's best not just to listen, but to hear what they have to say. If you can't understand them, and there's someone that can interpret, it's great because the language may not be lost,” he explains. 

His advice for youth considering leaving home to pursue work or school is thoughtful, sharing,  “Always keep in communication is the key. Always remember that when you're out there, you're not just bettering yourself. When you come back, you're taking something that you learned back to your community and that's the reward, because when we're isolated in some of these towns.” He suggests having a group to connect with while you’re away, but to stay in touch with family to get the support needed to be successful. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Hanna knows firsthand how important support is. He’s working with a psychologist to overcome intergenerational trauma. “What we have to learn is, some of us are living in fight and flight mode all of our lives. We call that hyper vigilance. When you're living in hyper vigilance, you're just coasting through life. You're just getting by, but you're not really learning and you're not living healthy,” he recounts. In a healthy place, Hanna explains how people can face struggles and make different choices, try different approaches, stay calm and reflect on things before reacting. 

He has words of encouragement for people making that transition to healthier coping. “Just never give up. You're going to always have challenges and if you can overcome those little challenges, and you see a big challenge, you'll be able to do it,” he counsels. 

Growing up, Hanna wishes he could have been more involved and stayed in sports and taken his math more seriously.  “I always thought that you don't need math. But when you're in the trades you need math,” he laughs. In computers and trades, he says that math and science are important, especially in carpentry, welding, or sheet metal roofing. “You have to find the area, the circumference, or just the volume, that's where math is really important to have, so you're not wasting material or you're not short on material, especially if you become an independent contractor,” he elaborates. 

Something else he’s learned is the value of meditating to deal with triggers. He uses music to remember good times, particularly enjoying music with a good message or music that might be weird. “Music is awesome. We cannot live without music. If there's music, it'll always cheer up a person,” he grins. 

As he moves forward, Hanna is inspired by the people around him and the stories he hears about in the media, especially the successes of other people. He has hope thinking of the opportunities in his area. “Now that we're moving forward in life in the territories, we do have the most resources of Canada, so there's going to be a lot of changes down the road. You can see it happening. We’ve got to prepare communities for the world to come up here because when we have full access to everything, if we're not ready for it, it could hit us pretty hard and it could have a negative impact,” he shares wisely.  

Getting stronger is something he encourages. “We always think that we have a weakness. You can focus on that weakness, find a way to strengthen your weakness and you'll be successful,” he offers. He’s passionate about being in the North and on the land, and the lessons he’s learned there are words of wisdom that can help others thrive. He may not have thought he needed math, but Ryan Hanna’s found ways to make everything add up, working in the trades and walking a warrior’s path to sobriety.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    June 13, 2023
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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