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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

We might need a miracle

BY Xavier Kataquapit Feb 26, 2024

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 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 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 drug and alcohol crisis that is devastating our communities. The council has determined the funding will help stem the flow of illegal drugs, enhanced by law enforcement measures and a Regional Community Safety Project. 

The Ontario Regional Coroner’s Office in December 2023 indicated Mushkegowuk’s drug toxicity death rates for 2019-2023 were triple the provincial average. More work is being done to update and expand this information. 

As well, the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation leadership held an emergency meeting in Ottawa recently to focus on the mental health crisis and to push the federal and provincial governments to assist in finding solutions. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak and Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare also participated in this meeting.

First Nations leadership realize how serious this situation is and have been struggling with so many people dealing with mental health issues. All communities are experiencing more suicides among young people. 

Feeral 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 and the hope is that they will act on the plea from NAN First Nations. Although invited, missing from this meeting 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 crisis 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. Over the last 100 years, illegal drug production and distribution has 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 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 drug trade is worth billions and continues to affect global affairs. We need to stop the trade at the source 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. 

There is a lot we can do in finding solutions and healing to assist our people through these addiction and mental health crisis, 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. 

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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.