Justice (25-42): Background Content

Indigenous Addiction and the Justice System

September 11, 2022

Fed. Govt., SK

James Smith Cree Nation Chief calls for drug treatment centres after knife attacks

Crystal meth addiction is rampant in community, support needed, leaders say

CBC: The chief of James Smith Cree Nation and other Indigenous leaders are calling on the provincial and federal governments to fund on-reserve addiction treatment centres following the horrific stabbing rampage on the Saskatchewan First Nation and neighbouring town of Weldon.

“We’ve got to protect our community, fight against drugs and alcohol,” James Smith Chief Wally Burns told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Rob Head, chief of the Peter Chapman Band — one of three nations that make up James Smith Cree Nation — told CBC News some of his own family members are addicted to crystal meth and require facilities for long-term treatment.

“It’s something that requires between 30 days to 90 days of treatment just to be able to get yourself back to a normal way of thinking,” he said. “Other than that, you’re pretty much addicted. If you don’t go into treatment, it’s not something that you can just quit cold turkey.”

Substance use is more common in Indigenous communities because of colonization, the residential school system and intergenerational trauma, advocates and Indigenous leaders say.

Drug addiction, especially to crystal meth, is rampant in James Smith Cree Nation, according to Head.

“I can’t believe how fast it creeped into our First Nations and it took control of all of our young people that have tried it,” he said. James Smith residents have also told CBC that the drug problem is out of control. “We’ve got to tackle it before it gets any bigger than it is now,” Head said. 

James Smith Cree Nation doesn’t have any facilities that can provide long-term support to people struggling with a crystal meth addiction, according to Head. 

The community has Sakwatamo Lodge, which is a 42-day residential treatment program. “We need like 30 days, 60 days, 90 days of detox just to get people back to normal and then they have to go into to therapy and treatment. And those kinds of things are not here in First Nations country,” Head said.

There are 10 treatment centres in Saskatchewan specifically for First Nations people, according to the Government of Canada website. 

Alleged assailant’s long drug history

One of the alleged assailants in a violent string of stabbings over the Labour Day Weekend had a long history of drug use, as documented in court records. Parole Board of Canada documents from February of this year reveal that Myles Sanderson, 32, struggled with drug and alcohol use in late childhood and started using cocaine at age 14.

RCMP say they don’t yet have a motive for the killings and may never get one, now that he’s dead. 

Relatives of victims of the mass stabbing that occurred on James Smith Cree Nation, Sask., over the Labour Day weekend hug after a news conference in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The attacks left 10 dead and 18 others injured. Those tallies don’t include Sanderson or his brother Damien, 31, who also died. Both were charged with first-degree murder. 

On Tuesday, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said on social media that the government is committed to “advancing the immediate, medium, and long-term goals and needs” identified by James Smith Cree Nation.

Everett Hindley, provincial minister of mental health and addictions, said on Wednesday that he had met with Indigenous leaders in multiple communities to discuss ways to tackle mental health and addictions challenges, and will work with Ottawa on the matter. 

September 6, 2022

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, ON, PE, SK, YT

The beast of addiction in Indigenous communities remains untamed

A vigil organized by the First Nations University of Canada for victims of the mass stabbing, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada on Sept. 7, 2022

Globe & Mail: Tanya Talaga – Over the past week, a Thunder Bay hotel’s conference room has become home to a land-based healing and recovery program. There, 17 women from one northern First Nation about two hours down the highway – women who are addicted to opioids, alcohol, crystal methamphetamine (jib) and/or methadone, which is itself used to treat the horrific, widespread disease of addiction that plagues First Nations communities – are participating.

Around Lake Superior’s northern shores, the devastation of drugs created to treat extreme pain – oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, morphine and heroin – is there for all to see, including in the yellow needle disposal units affixed to the walls of many public washrooms. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reports that from April, 2021, to March of this year, the opioid death rate was 82.1 per 100,000 people – four times Ontario’s rate of 18.7 per 100,000. There has been a 50-per-cent increase in deaths between 2020 and 2021 in that district – or about two people dying every five days, according to the CBC. 

As a northern hub city, Thunder Bay is where many First Nations people come to access health services for addiction, even though the city’s hospital and shelter system is already beyond stretched. The stories of addiction I’ve heard are heartbreaking: of homes being stripped of furniture and electronics just to afford the next hit; of essentially parentless children who are at daily risk of violence; of mothers so desperate for drugs that they sell their daughters to get high.

And so the awful news about the alleged actions of two brothers who reportedly lived and grew up in this cycle of addiction and abuse fell over the people gathered in that hotel room with muted sadness and deep understanding.

We do not yet know exactly what happened around the tragedy that took place in Saskatchewan over the Labour Day long weekend. But here is what we do know: 10 people are dead and 18 others were injured after a series of stabbing attacks on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby community of Weldon. Damien Sanderson, one of the suspects, was also found dead outside a house on that First Nation, just east of Prince Albert. The other suspect, his brother Myles – whose lengthy 20-year parole records say he began to drink and use weed at 12, cocaine by 14, and crystal meth in his 20s, while noting that he had a long history with gangs and grew up surrounded by domestic violence and substance abuse – was arrested on Wednesday, but died after going into what the RCMP called “medical distress.”

From the start, news reports quoted James Smith Cree community members blaming the attacks on addiction. “The battle we’re fighting here is not with each other. … The battle we’re fighting here is with alcoholism and drug use,” Darryl Burns, whose sister Gloria was killed, told Global News.

Myles Sanderson’s parole records bear that out, citing “intergenerational impacts of residential schools.” It was effectively a case study in what can emerge after decades of genocide and after institutions fail to account for the human cost of historical colonial policies.

When the last Indian Residential School closed in Canada in 1996, there was nothing to support the survivors as they struggled to rebuild their tattered lives. Most returned to First Nations in free fall, to families ripped apart by federal policies enacted by religious orders that in many cases resorted to abuse. And instead of admitting to genocide, Canada turned away, dismissing these as Indigenous peoples’ problems.

Instead of setting up mental-health clinics, traditional healing centres, or places to care for wounded and destroyed spirits, successive governments in Canada provided little more than child-welfare and prison systems that effectively swept up many of the kids of survivors and took them away from their homes and communities, leaving children without any sense of belonging.

That’s how violence can manifest: through trauma, left unchecked.

We have seen what happens when we fail to deal with the social fallout of residential schools and racist policies such as the Indian Act. There have been countless reports warning against continued inaction by Canada – from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s four volumes, to the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

So it is time for Canada to take responsibility and enact a giant Marshall Plan of change. Come together with our communities. Listen to Indigenous peoples and leaders. Bring true reconciliation to that cold, empty word that has left us in a state of seemingly inevitable, violent flux.

Myles Sanderson’s story is all too familiar. But it doesn’t have to be.