STONEY NAKODA – Marching down Morley Road, dozens of Stoney Nakoda First Nation members rallied to remember those who have died as a result of addiction.
Each step on their three-and-a-half-kilometre journey from the Chiniki Gas Station to the Stoney Tribal Administration building was matched by a call to action imploring Stoney Nakoda First Nation chiefs and council to make meaningful systemic changes to help combat the drug epidemic in the community.
The Addictions Awareness Walk took place on Saturday (Sept. 26) and was kick-started by a group of concerned mothers, lead by Summer Twoyoungmen and Eve Powder.
The walk was an overwhelming emotional experience filled with tears and laughter, as speakers shared stories of love and joy in front of the Stoney Tribal Administration building.
Powder’s daughter Christ-Lee, 29, died of a drug overdose in 2017 and her niece Joney Powder died of a drug overdose in early September.
Twoyoungmen's younger sister Sara LaBelle died in a rollover accident while seeking out drugs.
It has been heartbreaking watching the Nation continue to lose members to drug overdoses and struggles with addiction, Powder said.
She added she hopes the Addictions Awareness Walk marks the first step in actively changing the situation on the Nation and pushing chiefs and council to make changes to support those in the throes of addiction.
The key takeaway from the event is that unity is needed to bring true and lasting change to the community.
“We are all Stoneys, let’s do this together,” Powder said. “I’m pretty sure we can get everything in place if we all come together.”
The push for a walk was ignited by a Facebook post written by Twoyoungmen that detailed rumours that methamphetamine has been mixed with other drugs, including fentanyl, resulting in the death of band members. The post implores Stoney Nakoda First Nation chiefs and councils to take steps to end the selling of drugs on the Nation to keep members safe.
“A lot of stuff that I said in the post is what a lot of people have been thinking,” Twoyoungmen said. “The providers need to be cleared out and take their drugs with them. Our people are dying, our young ones are at a high risk of becoming another drug addict. This isn’t the future our ancestors hoped for us.”
Twoyoungmen said it was inspiring and refreshing to see the Nation united in combating the drug crisis. She added many of those in attendance have the shared experience of losing loved ones to drugs.
“This is only the beginning," she said. "From here on out, it is time for change.”
She questioned why members of council and Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon were in attendance as the walk was calling on them to create change in the Nation. Twoyoungmen added she hopes they will follow through on the promises made during the walk to help combat the drug crisis.
“We want anti-drug bylaws to be put in place, or some sort of law enforcement to be put in place,” Twoyoungmen said. “I really hope that they will be moving forward on doing something like that.”
Tessa Beaver helped organize the walk in memory of her best friends Christa-Lee Powder, Joney Powder and her Auntie Sabrina Wesley.
She said it was a powerful experience that proved challenging and emotional, as loved ones shared memories of those who have died.
“I teared up at the beginning of the walk,” Beaver said. "But we need to do this and I hope our community can come forward and bylaws can be put in place.”
This year alone, she has already seen around nine funerals for Nation members who died due to alleged drug overdoses.
“I don’t want any more people dying,” she said.
The day was one of sadness and anger, she said, but at the same time, there is promise things are beginning to change.
While there has been a push for reform at the grassroots level, Beaver noted, true change will need to come through the creation of bylaws and finding the source of where drugs are coming from.
“It has to be the chief and council – they have to come up with bylaws,” Beaver said. “They need to get all these drugs and dealers off the reserve.”
Bearspaw Nation Chief Darcy Dixon spoke at the walk to address the concerns raised by Nation members.
He characterized the drug epidemic as an issue affecting First Nations communities across Canada.
“I believe there’s more work that could be done from this Tribal Office,” Dixon said, adding the programs coming from Stoney Tribal Administration need to better include Nation members.
As a political leader, Dixon said he has a duty to ensure the Nation has the sustainability and capacity to establish programs that are initiated by the Stoney Nakoda community.
Chief and council need to take action, Dixon said, but will do so by working with Nation members to develop programs that are sustainable and fit the needs of the community.
He noted, to move forward Stoney Nakoda First Nation cannot rely on the Canadian government because it needs to begin fostering its own resources and revenue to support community-developed programming.
When Stoney Nakoda begins to generate revenue and resources they can work as a unified community to develop programs to combat drug addiction.
“It’s on our land, these programs we should operate and run it – but, we didn’t have our own source revenues to do that,” Dixon said.
Supporter Theresa Snow participated in the Addictions Awareness walk for her best friend Misty Potts who has been missing for five years and future generations of Stoney Nakoda.
Unity will be key between the three-nations as they work to remedy the drug crisis facing Stoney Nakoda, Snow said, paired with programs created by the community for Nation members.
“We have a lot of educated community members and so we just need to utilize them,” Snow said. “We’re bringing in non-Nation members who have a Western ideology of addictions and that isn’t our way of healing.”
The greatest challenge is having people come into the community to tell Nation members what they need, Snow said, explaining the Stoney Nakoda need to be able to write their own prescription for healing based on Indigenous culture and traditions when helping people recover from addiction.
During the Addictions Awareness walk, Chiniki councillor Jordie Mark praised the community for coming together to tackle the addictions crisis.
“We’re still losing people, we’re still losing young ones left and right,” Mark said. “We all live in this community, we all live on this reserve – we face this 24-hours a day, seven days a week.”
For true and lasting change, Mark said, Stoney Nakoda people need to become unified and reach out as a community to support those in need.
“It’s can’t just be the RCMP, it can’t just be chief and council, it’s a community effort,” Mark said.
Chief and council can direct administration to provide programs to aid in recovery, he said, but individuals have to want to heal themselves.
To help encourage recovery, Mark encouraged those in attendance to check in on others and make sure they are doing well.
He also called on Nation members to keep an eye out for suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles that could be linked with drug dealers. He added suspicious vehicles can be anonymously reported to Crime Stoppers.
“Looking out for each other needs to be strong, front and centre,” Mark said. “How else are you going to save the future generation … I want my son to grow up in a safe community and for future generations after them.”
Cst. Jennifer Brewer said Crime Stoppers is a completely anonymous way to share tips about alleged crimes occurring in the community.
“Nation members fear retaliation. They don’t want to talk, they don’t want to be seen with police because they are afraid of what is going to happen,” Brewer said.
Crime Stoppers is a resource that provides the community strength and hope by serving as a platform to speak out safely and anonymously.
The RCMP follow up on all tips received, Brewer said. She added the RCMP needs support from the community to combat issues like the drug crisis in Stoney Nakoda.
“Crime Stoppers is a way for them to speak out and not worry that it’s going to come back for them,” Brewer said. “We as the police, we never see your name, we never know who is giving us this information.”
If you have information on an incident call Crime Stoppers by phone at 1-800-222-8477, visit the website tipsubmit.com or visit crimestoppers.ab.ca.