By Xavier Kataquapit
It was good to see recent developments by northern Indigenous political leadership to deal with the epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse and the dire situation of suicide primarily by young Native people in Northern Ontario.
I know we are all fed up with watching so many of our family members and friends becoming helpless with addictions and the resulting violence in our northern First Nations. We are also feeling helpless with so many of our people dealing with mental health issues.
Chi-Meegwetch (thanks very much) to all our Indigenous leaders for stepping up and making the decision to deal with these critical problems and for providing funding to move towards some kind of a solution.
I was heartened to read a statement that Mushkegowuk Council has approved funding to support Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moose Cree and Attawapiskat First Nations to respond to an escalating illegal drug and alcohol crisis that is devastating our communities.
The council has determined the funding will help stem the flow of illegal drugs, enhance bylaw enforcement measures, and establish a Regional Community Safety Project, which will include efforts to address drug and alcohol addiction.
The Ontario Regional Coroner’s Office in December 2023 indicated Mushkegowuk First Nations’ drug toxicity death rates for the period 2019 to 2023 were triple the Ontario average. More work is being done to update and expand this information.
It was also good to see a report detailing that Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) leadership held an emergency meeting in Ottawa recently to focus on the mental health crisis. The NAN leadership and chiefs and council members were on hand to push the federal and provincial governments to assist with finding solutions to this crisis. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak and Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare also participated in this meeting.
First Nation leadership realize very well how serious this situation is and they have been struggling with so many people dealing with mental health issues. All of the communities have been experiencing suicides among young people and, in the past few years, things have become worse.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks, and Health Minister Mark Holland showed up for the federal government and the hope is that they will act on the plea from NAN First Nations. Missing from this meeting, although invited, were key Ontario ministers. To solve this mental health crisis both levels of government will have to contribute to solutions.
I am happy to see some of my family members and friends helping out in both the addictions and mental health crises, and I encourage more of my people to get an education in addiction counselling and social work so that they can give back to their communities. These are not easy jobs, so I give thanks for all those social workers and counsellors facing these problems and helping out.
I have been clean and sober in recovery since 1996 and I see some of my family and friends following this path. It is my hope that more Indigenous people with real life experience, as well as post-secondary education, come forward to help our people deal with these crisis situations. We need the perspective of real-life experience and people with knowledge of our traditions and culture.
I can’t help but wonder why with modern intelligence organizations, military, police and security services we can’t stop the production and flow of drugs into our country. Throughout modern history over the past hundred years, illegal drug production and distribution has always been a powerful force in our world.
Historically we can point to some dark times when government failed in dealing with the drug problem. In the 1980s, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was implicated in the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States to finance the Contra war in Central America. In the 1950s, the CIA sent weapons to anti-communist Chinese warlords who had crossed over into northern Burma, enabling them to carve out their own slice of territory. The warlords started growing opium to fund their activities, and the drug trade in this region known as the Golden Triangle was born.
The worldwide illegal drug trade is worth billions and continues to affect global affairs. We need to stop the trade at the source in order to stem the tide of deadly addictions, not just in the Indigenous communities, but everywhere else.
In the recovery world, addictions specialists have always said it is far easier to prevent someone from becoming addicted than to deal with the aftereffects of an already addicted person.
So there is a lot we can do to move ahead and face reality in finding solutions and healing to assist our people through these addiction and mental health crises, but the problem may be even bigger than we think and happening in our corridors of power. Let’s hope we can work together to figure this out and it may take a miracle.