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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

In memoriam

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Dec 16, 2022

I was reading Christopher Curtis’ piece in his online publication The Rover about the passing of Alexandra de Kiewit, a Montreal advocate for people who use drugs, sex workers, and people living with HIV. I did not know Alexandra personally, but as an advocate for harm reduction and safe-use policies, I greatly admired her work. 

De Kiewit was on numerous boards, part of many initiatives and would travel the world to advocate for people’s dignity. She was always honest about her own intravenous drug use. She saved so many lives, despite her addictions, because addictions don’t define people.

According to de Kiewit, “Once we let go of the judgment and see overdose deaths as a failure of government policy, people will stop dying.” 

Activists like de Kiewit started ringing the alarm about the opioid crisis many years ago. However, public policies have yet to follow. What I thought was an urban problem is starting to reach Northern communities; last summer, there have been overdose-related deaths in Nunavik because of drugs laced with fentanyl that were bought in Montreal. According to a friend in Puvirnituq, a community member was buried wearing her wedding dress, as she was supposed to get married not long after coming back from down South.

In most Cree communities, the only ones who have Naloxone in their inventory are the healthcare workers in clinics and first responders. Naloxone is a fast-acting medication that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids and can stabilize a person who overdoses while they await urgent care. 

If you are wonder if people feel confident calling emergency services when their buddy is overdosing, they don’t. Profound distrust in healthcare and police services, and lack of literacy on users’ rights come into play when community members face such situations. People would rather leave their friend in front of the ER, ring the nurse and leave than calling emergency right away. 

When a person overdoses, every minute counts, and the sooner Naloxone is administered the better. As communities, we should consider distributing Naloxone to drug users so that they can save a life if they must. Because yes, people who live with addictions deserve to live too.

Over the holidays, some people tend to isolate during that time to use. I think we should consider such initiatives in our communities, even if the opioid crisis is hitting harder in big cities. Better safe than sorry; we should take this opportunity to start educating people and breaking down the stigmas.

Days after Alexandra de Kiewit’s passing, I read a Facebook post written by her friend. The post reads: “But you didn’t die of an overdose, you didn’t die of AIDS either. You’re dying a natural death as a punk who got to choose her life, burning it all at both ends of the candle, your beautiful, bright candle.” 

We should always remember that the key to recovery is preventing early deaths. In the New Year, I hope we choose compassion and stop pushing people to the margins of our communities.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.