In recognition of National Addictions Awareness Week, the Westbank First Nation is hosting several interactive events this week, aimed at breaking the stigma and providing education surrounding addiction.
“The theme of our events is ‘let’s talk’, and it’s all about educating each other and sharing openly and honestly about what it means to heal from addiction,” explained addictions worker, Rene Petel.
“Addiction isn’t necessarily about the toxic drug supply, either. People can be addicted to alcohol, gambling or social media, so it’s about creating awareness.”
Thursday’s event was called ‘Fathers of Tradition’, a chance for Indigenous fathers to take part in smudging, open discussions and cultural practices.
“It creates a safe place for fathers to get together and to share,” said Petel.
“One of the rules we do apply is ‘who you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here.’ I love it. Dads need love, too.”
Data shows that 25 per cent of Indigenous Canadians suffer from addiction, compared to 17 per cent of Canada’s non-Indigenous population. Petel says the problem continues to rise in all communities.
“It’s a condition that affects all families all across the board, it doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t specifically target anyone, so addiction is happening everywhere,” described Petel. “Not just for the First Nations.”
While only a handful of individuals were present at Thursday’s gathering, those who were all say programs such as this are making a huge difference in their life and provide them with hope.
“I’m trying to be a positive community member, and a positive role model to kids in my community, because I wasn’t before,” said participant Travis Swite.
“Now that I’m sober and clean, I’m trying to stick on that road.”
When it comes to past substance misuse, Swite says staying on the path of sobriety is a day-to-day journey.
“Once I step out the door, there’s a brand-new challenge,” expressed Swite.
“Somebody else in the community is either drinking or doing what they’re doing, and to me, being fresh out of recovery, it’s challenging because that’s what I wanted every day.”
Each person who successfully finishes the Fathers of Tradition program is honoured with a graduation ceremony and a certificate.