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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

I’m dreaming of a safe and happy holiday

BY Xavier Kataquapit Jan 10, 2024

Holiday season is here, and you can see much excitement during this festive time. Different religions and cultures celebrate this period, and some don’t at all. I grew up in the remote community of Attawapiskat 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 religions 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 religions.

We all enjoyed Christmas and the various celebrations that went on during these festive days. This included Christmas trees, gift giving, midnight mass at the local church and home visits with family and friends. Along with this time and 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 the Christmas season. Yes, there was some fun and joy in celebrating the holiday 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. 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 helped make these dangerous opioids available to thousands of people. A great documentary series called Pain Killer on Netflix provides insight on how this epidemic was manufactured. 

We are still dealing with this crisis as it now involves fentanyl, a powerful and potent opioid and too many people continue to die or be hospitalized 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 and less for the care of patients. Medical professionals were also caught up in the vast marketing schemes. Due to some good reporting by journalists, awareness campaigns by activists and the strength of our healthcare 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 who are dedicated to healing our people. This is the time of the year to celebrate the 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 environment to enjoy. They don’t need or deserve the terror of a drug- or alcohol-fuelled Christmas holiday.

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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.