Sympathizing with indigenous addiction

Many indigenous people attribute substance abuse directly to the child welfare experience, CAS system and the aftermath of Residential Schools. Those that don’t, tend to have parents that were directly affected by one or more of the above factors, and passed the trauma and addiction to their children.

Now, as a non-indigenous person you can easily read those two sentences and think “wow, if they have so many problems why do they think drugs are gonna fix them?”

You see, the cultural ceremonies indigenous people had to help heal our “problems” were once illegal or have since been lost.

To top it off, everything about indigenous culture was either forcibly eradicated using fear, abuse and shame in residential schools, or the knowledge was simply not given to indigenous children who were raised by non-indigenous families due to the CAS system.

I suppose you would think that we’d be “over it” by now though right?


It is nearly impossible to put the value of culture, language and inherited knowledge into words. But, if there were a way for indigenous people to explain why the taking of who we are was so devastating, you would probably show more compassion than judgment.

The problem is that the preciousness of something that can only be felt by the people that are linked to it; is difficult by far to comprehend for someone on the outside. For me to sit here and explain what it feels like to speak the language, know the ceremonies, know the history, stories, dances and belief systems would take hours.

But, I can tell you what it would feel like without it.

I would lose my sense of roots; I would lose my sense of self and identity. I would lose my sense of self-worth, I would forget my purpose and I would feel like I don’t belong anywhere in particular. In all honesty, I don’t know what kind of person I would be without traditional knowledge and I don’t think I’d be able to handle having institutions like residential schools trying to take it from me.

Let’s not forget that many indigenous people have been heavily affected by intergenerational trauma, abuse, lack of physical affection and care that stems from those culture-eradicating institutions. And many indigenous people didn’t even get a chance to learn traditional knowledge, period.

So, when addiction can be looked at as a way some indigenous people escape from a harsh reality; it is much easier to understand and sympathize with. Especially when our systems of familial healing and coping were almost completely destroyed.

Let us not forget that many of the drugs being circulated today were once the medicinal “cure-everything” opiates of the 1800s.

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