Members of a southern Alberta Indigenous group have finished a week of events that aimed to educate their community about drug addiction.
It fell during National Addictions Awareness Week, with one of Friday’s events giving people a chance to remember lost loved ones.
A handful of Piikani Nation members marched through the streets on their reserve, walking towards their cemetery to pay respects to loved ones who lost battles to addiction.
Florence Weasel Bear has been an addictions counsellor for 30 years and knows all too well what alcohol and drugs have done to her community.
“We’ve all lost somebody through addictions.
“It’s very special when we end the week with our sober walk and we release the balloons. It’s kind of releasing our pain,” she said.
Despite her knowledge of addictions, Weasel Bear said her daughter passed away from opioid use four years ago.
She hopes a new support system for Piikani band members will help users find a way to get clean.
“I really hope that this recovery house is something for our people to go to and go through their own recovery,” Weasel Bear said.
She said the recovery house is set to open in 2019, with staff already in place.
Members of the community say drugs, specifically opioids, have changed their way of life.
One of the community’s spiritual advisors has lost friends to opioid use — noting it is deteriorating and demolishing their way of life.
“It gets me angry. But I know anger isn’t the solution,” said Eric Crow Shoe. “It’s a community responsibility … everybody has a responsibility with what’s going on.”
The southern Alberta band is not alone.
In November, officials from Blood Tribe Emergency Services said they saw 34 overdoses resulting in three deaths over a span of three weeks.
It’s something Weasel Bear knows all too well, saying it is a national crisis and she hopes Indigenous leaders take a stand against opioids, hoping there are no more victims like her daughter.