By Lethbridge Herald on February 9, 2024.
Theodora MacLeod – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Community members from across Blackfoot Nation gathered on Friday at the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge to discuss the ongoing challenges of the opioid crisis and issues of homelessness.
Hosted by the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society, it was a communing of hearts and minds featuring professor and knowledge keeper, Leroy Little Bear, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, and over 100 frontline workers, people experiencing addiction, people in recovery, and loved ones of those who have been lost to drugs.
Gathered in a circle at the centre of the conference room, attendees shared their stories and answers to the question posed by Little Bear “What would you say to the Prime Minister and an opioid expert if you were sitting across from them?”
Some said they’d have to bite back anger, while others explained they would offer to smudge with the Prime Mister as a gesture of cleansing and cultural exchange, but in the end the messages were all a plea for understanding and support.
As the microphone was passed between people, two clear themes arose; all humans, by the virtue of their humanity deserve respect and compassion; and healing is only possible through spiritual and community connection.
Executive director of the Friendship Society Elaine Creighton Fox says she didn’t expect so many people to attend – a pleasant surprise serving as a representation of the hope that remains. Hope that by coming together in healing and support, the community can help those who have fallen into addiction.
“One of our core values is helping others,” Creighton Fox says of the Blackfoot people.
Though Lethbridge has a number of services to support those facing addiction, Creighton Fox believes the lack of cooperation between the organizations providing the support severely hinders the important work that has to be done.
“What I’ve seen is we work too much in silos. We need to come together, partnership as one. Collaborate with each other,” she explains.
“I hate to say it but it’s just a little bit of ego… we need to go back to our traditional ways where we came together as a community. There was no hierarchy, we were one, we were all equal and when there was a problem it was dealt with by the whole community swiftly.”
Creighton Fox says she organized the event as a way to encourage collaboration and dialogue between the various organizations providing resource.
“If we work as one, we can know, we can streamline the services and then I think we will be more effective in delivering the services to help the people and the homeless. And not just that, but prevention. Going to the schools.” She says the Blood Tribe is losing a whole generation of young people and only through culture and language will there be healing.
As the theme of compassion and respect was weaved throughout the conversation, so was the acknowledgement that addiction is a symptom of trauma.
Those in recovery who spoke shared how stigma and childhoods fractured by cultural disconnect, institutionalization, and a loss of identity led them to using drugs as a mean to avoid facing trauma. One support worker explained that for those deep in addiction
“It’s no longer recreational, it’s no longer fun, they’re in pain.”
Many who spoke emphasized the importance of cultural and spiritual connection in finding a way to recovery, in addition to community and connection, something with which Creighton Fox agrees, though she adds that there is still work to be done with regards to recovery facilities in the area.
“The biggest challenge I see is after they come home from treatment, there’s no safe spaces.” She explains.
“I’ve been trying to advocate for safe housing–sober living. We need some sober living here… We need it specifically for people who come out of treatment.”
A woman in recovery who addressed the circle said it’s unrealistic to expect someone to heal from the trauma that led them to substance abuse and completely change their habits in just 28 days, because even the healthiest of people can’t change their habits and lifestyle in such a short period of time. This statement, which highlighted the difficulty of recovery, endorsed Creighton Fox’s belief that sober living facilities are needed in the area.
The gathering offered not only a space for community collaboration, but physical resources for prevention and harm reduction.
“I’m all about hope,” says Creighton Fox, perhaps the most valuable resource in a daunting battle.