Onkwehonwe Week in Review

Blood Reserve grapples with epidemic of Fentanyl addiction

Blood Reserve, Alberta – The community seems idyllic, set amongst the Rocky Mountains, but the Blood reserve is on the frontlines of a fentanyl addiction epidemic that is sweeping across western Canada.  Fentanyl is an opiod that is up to 100 times more powerful than heroin.  It is used as a painkiller for terminal cancer patients and has emerged as an alternative to Oxycontin.  Throughout the last six years, there have been more than 650 deaths due to an overdose of the narcotic.  The first three months of 2015 saw 16 overdose deaths which prompted the Blood reserve to declare a state of emergency.

Dr. Susan Cristenson is a member of the Blood reserve and runs a clinic where fentanyl addicts go to get clean.  It is here that drug pushers wait outside for addicts to re-emerge.  “They’re like dark ghosts who are trying to trip you up.  They’re trying to drag you back and take your soul and that’s what addiction is,” Cristenson said. Withdrawal is described as being like, “Dante’s Inferno” – total body pain, vomiting, retching, unable to sleep, severe depression, it’s like misery.  Pills usually cost 50 cents to make and sell for $20-40, so there is no shortage of dealers.  Unlike Oxycontin, there is no quality control.  “This is homemade.  They’re pressing it into a pill.  Nobody has any training, they’re making those pills strictly for money and they’re getting rich,” says Staff Seargent Rod Klessen of the RCMP.


Northern village commemorates rejection of residential schools

Jean Marie River, Northwest Territories – More than 80 years ago, in a small hamlet along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, a Dene community with a high population of indigenous children attracted church and government officials who wanted to take the children to Fort Simpson for residential schooling.  Chief Louis Norwegian flatly refused.  “When he heard the mothers crying – echoing through the community – especially in September when it’s very dark and quiet – he himself cried,” says Chief Gladys Norwegian, daughter of then Chief Louis.  It was the mothers who made up his mind to keep the children in the community.  They would build a school in the community for the children.

He had a barge-load of logs shipped along the Mackenzie River from Peace River, Alta.  Local men pitched in and built the schoolhouse.  Norwegian made a deal with southern anthropologists, June Helm and Teresa Carterette, who were looking to study a northern community.  “Teach our kids, he said, and we’ll cut your firewood, haul your water and co-operate with your research”, Norwegian recalled. Books and school materials were shipped up from Alberta and eventually teachers came too.  “I think it helped me become more comfortable with who I am.  I didn’t really need to explain to anybody what being an aboriginal person means.  I was comfortable in my skin,” says Norwegian who has fond memories of the schoolhouse.  The original building still stands.  The community would like to turn it into a museum and a place to showcase arts and crafts.  The building stands as a testament to the power of the chief who said no.


Ancestral design shared in international markets creates space for growth

Sept Iles , Quebec – Innu designer Josee LeBlanc is a traditional beader who owns Agara Complex, a craft shop located in Sept Iles, Quebec.  She has come up with an idea to empower vulnerable, indigenous women and to share ancestral design with an international audience. Agara Complex has many crafts, but they were made by women who were paid only $3 to $4 an hour for their work.  When LeBlanc asked the women’s daughters if they were going to learn their mother’s skill, she was shocked to hear the daughter’s dismay at being asked to continue their mother’s perceived menial work.  LeBlanc took action and began designing mukluks and moccasins that would represent pages in First Nation’s history.  Each boot will have a theme.  “We have the boot of the hunter, there’s the boot of healing, we will have the boot of resilience, we will see the boot of the hunter, fisherman, trapper,” LeBlanc says. “All these strips will be embroidered by women who go to the centres or organizations and who need help.”  She is hoping that the women will be able to gain financial independence while getting a fair wage to ensure that the traditions continue.  The project is a part of Commerce International Cote-Nord.  The mukluks and moccasins will be sold internationally on the internet.  The website will be available by the end of February, 2016.


Climate change is affecting vital winter roads for First Nations: Chief Day

Ottawa, Ontario – Ontario Grand Chief Isadore Day has declared his intent on pressuring Trudeau’s Liberal government to increase the reliability of the northern winter road network, which is in jeopardy because of climate change.  These roads have become a lifeline for the remote northern communities because they provide cheaper access to food, fuel and other necessities, compared to expensive air travel.  Day says that now these communities cannot rely on these winter roads and is looking to Trudeau’s government for answers.   This is an example of why there was such an outcry from Indigenous peoples at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris.  Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of climate change.  Money needs to be invested in sustainable infrastructure.  There has been a long standing push for permanent roads but climate change has made the issue more pressing.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says there is “every evidence” Canada’s indigenous peoples are on the frontline of climate change.  Bennett says that the Liberal government is open to examining the impacts of the issue to allow for a long term strategy to be developed.  “We need to have everybody included in really assessing the need and then developing feasibility projects and proposals,” she says. NDP Indigenous Affairs critic, Charlie Angus says, “My message to the government is you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is when you make these promises.”  Day insists that he will continue to bring this essential issue to Trudeau’s cabinet so the needs are dealt with properly and in a timely fashion.


Miss Universe Canada’s totem pole costume shocks the world

Two different pageants – one leaves indigenous peoples proud while the other one leaves indigenous peoples shaking their heads in outrage.  In August, Ashley Callingbull, a 25-year-old woman from Enoch Cree First Nation in Alberta, won the crown of Mrs. Universe.  She hoped her win would be a blow to stereotypes about indigenous women and culture.  However, last week, Paola Nunez Valdez, a Torontonian of Dominican descent, competed in the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas, California.  Valdez was scorned by many for wearing a dress that depicted a totem pole similar to those found on Canada’s west coast.  She captioned an Instagram post of her dress describing herself as a “totem goddess.”  The dress was essentially a bikini with black feather plumes, a head dress, and a totem pole as long as the contestant’s legs.  She quickly came under fire after her costume was posted online.

In a statement, Valdez said the costume was a “misunderstanding” and that the design referred to her own heritage as a Dominican.  Callingbull in a Facebook post suggested Miss Universe Canada hire a cultural consultant in the future to avoid hanging an important symbol from a future contestant’s crotch.    She also criticized the organization’s attempt to cover up the error.  “I’d like to see these so-called ‘west coast Dominican Republic totem poles.’  They are really trying to protect themselves and didn’t even have the heart to simply apologize,” she said.  Last year, Canada’s contestant wore a dress featuring 11 hockey sticks, elbow pads and a hat in the shape of the Stanley Cup.

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