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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

A good path forward

BY Xavier Kataquapit May 22, 2023

Recently I had conversations with friends’ family about how important it is to help others, especially those who are marginalized and who have addictions. We agreed on the fact that too many Indigenous people deal with addictions because of colonization and racism. 

We have come a long way in how we look at people with addictions and we now understand this should be treated as a health issue. Thankfully we have more Indigenous people who assist our people with alcohol and drug addictions. We also have many recovering alcoholics and addicts who now help those suffering from the same diseases. It seems as if colleges are pumping out social workers brimming with good intentions, but without the life experience they need to understand those who suffer from substance abuse. 

I am reminded of a story that explains a view on helping a person with alcoholism or drug addiction: 

“An alcoholic addict had fallen into a hole and was pleading for help from anyone. He just could not figure out how to get out of this despair of alcoholism and addiction he had fallen into. A businessman went by, and the alcoholic called out for help. The businessman threw him some money and told him to buy himself a ladder. But the alcoholic could not buy a ladder in this hole he was in. 

“Then a doctor walked by. The alcoholic cried out that he could not get out of the hole he was in. The doctor gave him some drugs and suggested that the medicine would help. The alcoholic said thanks, but the pills just made him numb and he was still stuck in the hole. 

“Next, a psychiatrist/social worker was walking by and heard the alcoholic’s cries for help. He stopped and asked, ‘How did you get there? Were you born there? Did your parents put you there? Tell me about yourself, it will alleviate your sense of loneliness.’ The alcoholic talked with him for an hour and poured out his heart. The psychiatrist/social worker noticed the time and said he had to leave but would try to return the next week. The alcoholic thanked him, but he was still in the hole. 

“Next thing you know a religious leader came by. The alcoholic again called for help. The holy man told him, ‘I’ll say a prayer for you.’ He got down on his knees and prayed for the alcoholic, then he left. The alcoholic was very grateful, but he was still stuck in the hole. 

“Finally, a recovering alcoholic passed by, on his way home from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The alcoholic cried out, ‘Hey, help me. I’m stuck in this hole!’ Right away the recovering alcoholic realized what the addict in the hole was dealing with and jumped down in the hole with him. The alcoholic asked, ‘What are you doing? Now we’re both stuck here!’ But the recovering alcoholic smiled and said, ‘Calm down. It’s okay. I’ve been here before. I know how to get out.’”

As more of my people become recovering alcoholics and addicts, some of them are thankfully finding work assisting others with this health issue. It is a long, difficult road for Indigenous communities as we have had to struggle through generations of abuse, tragedy and marginalization. I repeat to anyone who might listen that these tragedies took generations to accumulate, and it may very well take generations to deal with. 

Life is a lot better than it was for my parents, who grew up in a culture of racism and ignorance. However, there are still barriers in place that need to be dealt with. 

I say Meegwetch, thanks to all the wonderful, caring and wise Elders, leaders, traditional guides, recovering alcoholics and addicts who are supporting our brothers and sisters in their recovery from alcoholism and addiction. As a recovering alcoholic, I can tell you that there is a good path forward with the support of people providing qualified, experienced interventions. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.