During the annual syilx Nation Drug Forum on May 13, syilx people from across the Nation came together to discuss ideas and share resources on how to support loved ones struggling with drug and alcohol misuse, where the theme of taking care of one another was emphasized by organizers and guest speakers. community support
Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band led the opening remarks of the forum, which was hosted at the Prestige Vernon Lodge and Conference Centre on syilx territory.
Louis said that more attention should be given to why people are turning to drugs in the first place, saying that drug use is a symptom of pain. But he noted that nobody is coming to rescue the community, and that it’s up to the community to save themselves because “we are the only ones that can do that.”
“We need to look and share ways of how we can overcome this plague that’s been with us for so long. Two-hundred years is over too long for people to be suffering,” Louis said. “We all have the power to break it. We need to look at that and we need to say no more.”
He added that all sqilx’w (Indigenous people) possess the power to break the cycle of addiction that has harmed generations of Indigenous families for hundreds of years. He described the act of breaking this cycle as decolonization.
“This has been going on for us for over 200 years and it’s something that we need to break. I always try to tell people that each and everyone of us has the opportunity to break the cycle,” he said.
“If we’re parents and we’re young parents, well it’s not predestined or preordained that we have to live the same life that we did growing up. We can change that version into where they can have a healthy life, and understand what it’s like to be raised in a home that doesn’t have drugs or alcohol, or the family violence or all the other things.”
nkwancinəm Kim Montgomery, the mental health lead with the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), echoed Louis’s sentiments and said that her big push right now is to help the community learn new ways to take care of each other.
“Because we know how. We absolutely know how to care for each other,” said Montgomery. “We absolutely know the right things to do. It’s being there for each other.”
Being There For Each Other
Throughout the day, a number of healing ceremonies and exercises were conducted. Guest speakers from the community shared personal stories about the impact that living in kinship with addiction has had on their loved ones. Two Youth also shared their personal stories of what it was like to live in kinship with addiction and recovery, where they openly expressed the importance of support from family and friends.
Another exercise at the forum saw attendants break out into small groups to discuss various topics related to addiction, where they shared their thoughts on how to prevent addiction and the different steps that they can take to help break the cycle of addiction in their family. Facilitators with the ONA’s wellness team jotted down the feedback, which will be reviewed to help guide future programming.
A number of health resources available to the community also had booths set up at the forum, including Interior Health, First Nations Health Authority and various departments with ONA’s wellness team.
‘The root of addiction in every circumstance I’ve witnessed is trauma. That’s what it comes down to.’
Tanya MacKeigan, the mental health and addictions specialist with ONA, had a booth at the forum. In her role, MacKeigan can provide counselling at an individual, group or family level. She can also connect people with cultural treatment options as well, and refer them to cultural supports in the community.
From her observations, she said that the stigma and shame around mental health and addiction is the biggest barrier that deters people from seeking help.
“Just encouraging people that there are supports out there, and it’s okay to reach out to them,” said MacKeigan.
Community support, she said, is essential for someone who is struggling.
“It is definitely essential to have a strong support system when somebody is really unpacking a lot of heavy trauma,” she said. “The root of addiction in every circumstance I’ve witnessed is trauma. That’s what it comes down to.”
The ONA has resources available to community members struggling with mental health and addiction.
MacKeigan’s services are open to anyone 15 years and older. She can be reached at [email protected], or 250-300-6579. The ONA’s youth wellness services are available to syilx Youth between the ages of 12 and 19. They can be reached at [email protected], or 778-392-8966.
Senior Aunty Note: At IndigiNews we use the term, “living in kinship with…” in order to center the Indigenous perspective when talking about living with the spirit of addictions, trauma, mental health etc. It gives each individual the power to write their own truth and story – it offers Indigenous People self-determination over their identities.