“There are memories”: rampant addiction to Sask.Indigenous people are the result of generational trauma in boarding schools
Warning: This story contains some details that readers may find uncomfortable.
Indigenous leaders of Keeseekose First Nation in Saskatchewan said the community is struggling to cope with the intergenerational trauma caused by boarding schools that once operated in the area, and many residents turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
Keeseekoose Finance Director Amy Cote said that drug addiction and death are an epidemic and have been part of the Aboriginal people for decades.
“The opioid crisis here is like a huge one. Everyone has been affected by it, and no one hasn’t,” Kurt said in an interview with CTV National News.
Last year, at least 12 people died from drug overdose and suicide in Keeseekose First Nation. Since January, another 6 people have died.
Cote said this is a harsh reality for a community of only 2,550 residents.
“I lost a nephew and niece in the opioid crisis because it is much easier to see a dealer than to deal with problems and ask for help,” she explained.
Chief Lee Kitchemonia recently lost his daughter due to an overdose of methamphetamine.
“She is only 24 years old and she has an 8-year-old daughter. She is definitely an influence of the boarding school, what I want to say is,” Kitchemonia said.
The St. Phillips Indian Boarding School opened in the area in 1928. Now, a monument to commemorate boarding school students stands in its place.
Although the school no longer exists, survivors say that the trauma it caused has affected people in their communities for many years.
Boarding school survivor and former principal Ted Quizance said the trauma he experienced at school still burdened him.
“Sexual abuse, physical abuse, you will never forget. You see the RCMP, there are memories there. You see the missionaries, there are memories there. You see a brick house, there are memories. You have showers, there are memories A memory. There are many, and I am just one of them. Imagine all the 750 children going to school here,” he said.
Kurt said that many people in the community have turned to drug and alcohol abuse, trying to forget the trauma.
“It all started when you were deprived of your parental rights when you were a child. It is not easy, and it is not something you can overcome,” she said.
The 16-year-old Zoey Sinclair-Straightnose has never entered a boarding school, but she told CTV News that she lives with its influence every day.
“I have a mother who is addicted to drugs, but she is trying to clean herself up, but since I lost my brother, I have lost my mother,” she explained.
Sinclair-Straightnose said her grandmother has always been her strong backing. However, the matriarch admitted that she also had her own demon.
“I told the story of my father. He started being sexually abused when he was 8 years old, and I watched my grandchildren — I can’t even imagine anyone doing this to them — I think my father has to endure this. It’s very painful,” Janice said straightly.
Chief Kitchemonia said he was working hard to save what was left of his aboriginal people. He said that the community needs trauma counseling, methadone treatment clinics and ambulance services, but funds are scarce, which is difficult.
“We have a nurse here for the entire community, which is not good,” Kitchemonia said.
Instead, members turned to their elders for guidance, and they said that regaining their identity and returning to their culture and traditional rituals is the key to healing.
“Be proud of yourself. Never be ashamed, because this is what they are trying to do, they are trying to make us ashamed of who we are,” Straightnose said.