By Xavier Kataquapit
Holiday season is here, and you can see everyone is excited in the annual high of getting ready for Christmas. Different religions and cultures celebrate this period, and some don’t at all.
I grew up in the remote Indigenous community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast and, through colonization and the invasion by Christian missionaries, my people for many years ended up becoming swept up in either the Catholic or Protestant religion, depending on who was doing the invading.
We all became part of this religion and managed also to incorporate some of our own original traditions and culture. However, most of our traditions and cultural practices were banned and considered evil by these new religious practioners.
We all enjoyed Christmas for the excitement of this time and the various celebrations that went on during festivities. This included, of course, Christmas trees, gift giving, midnight mass at the local church and home visits with family and friends.
Along with this time, and also as part of the colonization process, we became introduced to alcohol and that ended up producing an epidemic of alcoholism and tragedy for my people.
Too many of us recall difficult times during Christmas. Yes, there was some fun and joy in celebrating this time of the year, but once the drinking started many became helpless and all kinds of terrible tragedies occurred. There were all sorts of accidents, violence, crazy situations where people sometimes died, were injured or became incapacitated and ill over time.
The alcohol was impossible to contend with and then in the 1970s and 1980s drug abuse became more prominent. Many of our Indigenous communities became dysfunctional and unsafe as alcohol and drugs took over the lives of people. In particular this became a generational process with the young picking up these addictions in their teen years and even as children.
Thankfully, today we have made a lot of progress in dealing with the terrible results of colonization and my people are returning to our traditions and culture. We are helping each other in terms of dealing with alcohol and drug addictions through treatment programs, traditional healing and education on how addictions work.
These days we have to deal with new and deadly addictions involving opioids. Alarmingly, more than 40,000 people have died of opioids in Canada since 2016 when records first started to be kept. The worst part of this is that prescription drugs produced by big pharmaceuticals and their promotional relationship with the medical community had a lot to do with making these dangerous opioids available to many thousands of people. A great documentary series called ‘Pain Killer’ on Netflix provides an insight on how this epidemic was manufactured.
We are still dealing with this crisis as it now involves Fentanyl, a very powerful and potent opioid and too many people continue to die, are hospitalized and injured by these devastating drugs. This opioid crisis has dealt a great blow to the public’s trust in big pharmaceuticals who are often more concerned with making billions of dollars on drugs and less for the care of patients. Medical professionals were also caught up in the vast marketing schemes run by these drug companies and, thankfully, due to some good reporting by journalists, awareness campaigns by activists and the strength of our health care professionals, we are now in a more informed and enlightened state when it comes to opioids.
My hope is that you and your family and friends have a wonderful, safe and happy holiday season and that you are watching out for those around you. If you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, then please, for the sake of yourself and your family and friends, reach out for help. You can contact people in your community who are working in drug and alcohol treatment and prevention, as well as local health professionals with addiction knowledge and, of course, the traditional people that are dedicated to healing our people.
This is the time of the year to celebrate this holiday season in any way you desire but make an effort to put smiles on the faces of your children, family and friends and give them a safe and comfortable Christmas. They don’t need or deserve the terror of a drug- or alcohol-fuelled Christmas.