Over 100 Kehewin Cree First Nation members took part in a walk to raise awareness about growing methamphetamine abuse in the community.
Terri Suntjens, who works at Kehewin Health Services, noticed a worrying trend when a number of her clients admitted to using meth recently. Kehewin Tribal Counselling Services, which provides one-on-one counselling and procures referrals to rehab and detox, also started receiving public complaints about a growing meth problem.
“There was a big outcry,” said Desire Ambie Jackson, a receptionist at KTCS. A meeting attended by tribal chiefs, community agencies and the Bonnyville RCMP was held in September to outline a plan to do something about the worrying news. A Drug Awareness Walk was planned for Oct. 2 and another community meeting with elders will be held on Oct. 7.
Jackson said the community is also preparing to conduct workshops in schools to highlight the meth issue and possibly conduct surveys to get an idea of addiction rates.
“Meth hurts,” she said. “It draws you away from family, from love.”
She added, “It affects the person individually and everyone in some way or the other is affected by it.”
People gathered at Kehewin Health Services Friday morning with signs and banners calling to kick the drug out of the community. The group swelled in size as Kehewin’s 1,000-plus community came out from houses and cars on the main road to join the crowd headed to Highway 41.
“We’re here to support the process of coming off the meth,” said Suntjens “We’re trying to spread the message that we don’t want it here.”
She added that layoffs in the oil and gas sector are also contributing to higher drug use across the Lakeland.
Benny Badger was recently elected to Kehewin Council. He emphasized the need to focus on healing and reconciliation.
“It’s everybody’s problem,” he explained. “We got to find a way to work together, to find a solution.”
Badger believes that people are speaking out through their addiction because they feel like they do not have anywhere else to go and very few people to turn to.
“We’re showing that we still care,” Badger said. “It’s not to push them away or to shame them, it’s about bringing them back and finding their gifts again.”
Badger also reached out to the RCMP to send a positive message that the community and the police can work together.
“Drug abuse is a growing concern on the Kehewin Cree Nation, specifically the abuse of meth,” said Sgt. Sarah Parke of the Bonnyville RCMP, who attended the walk. “The Bonnyville RCMP is committed to continuing their partnership with the Kehewin Cree Nation in an effort to continue to raise awareness and fight the war on drugs in their community.”
As the community begins the uphill task of combating drug abuse, the urgency remains clear. Many remain worried about the potentially ravaging effects of meth use. From contracting a life-threatening disease such as hepatitis or HIV through sharing needles to poverty to death even, the consequences are dire, noted Jackson.
Suntjens believes the drug awareness campaign will make a different, but shares the concern.
“It’s claiming a lot of our people.”