'There's a memory there': Rampant addictions on Sask. First Nation a result of generational trauma from residential school
TORONTO -- Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing.
Indigenous leaders of Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan say the community is struggling to cope with the intergenerational trauma caused by a residential school that once operated in the area, with many residents turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.
Keeseekoose Finance Director Amy Cote says drug addiction and death is an epidemic that has been a part of the First Nation for decades.
"The opioid crisis out here, like it’s huge. Everybody has been affected by it, there is not one person that is not," Cote said in an interview with CTV National News.
At least 12 people died by overdose and suicide in Keeseekoose First Nation last year, and since January, there has been six more deaths.
Cote says it's a harsh reality for a community with only 2,550 residents.
"I've lost a nephew and niece to the opioid crisis because it’s so much easier to go see a dealer than deal with the issue and seek help," she explained.
Chief Lee Kitchemonia recently lost his daughter to a crystal meth overdose.
"She was only 24 years old, she had an 8-year-old daughter. She’s definitely an effect, the residual effects, of, I would say, residential schools," Kitchemonia said.
The St. Phillips Indian Residential School opened in the area in 1928. Now, a memorial honouring residential school students stands in its place.
While the school is no longer there, survivors says the trauma from it has affected people in their community for years.
Residential school survivor and former chief Ted Quewezance says the trauma he experienced at the school still burdens him.
"The sexual abuse, the physical abuse, you will never forget that. You see an RCMP, there’s a memory there. You see a preacher, there’s a memory there. You see a brick building, there’s a memory. You have a shower, there’s a memory. There’s lots and I am just one. Imagine all the 750 kids that went to school here," he said.
Cote said many in the community have turned to drugs and alcohol to try to forget the trauma.
"It all started from being stripped away from your parents when you were a kid. It’s not easy and it’s not something you can get over," she said.
Zoey Sinclair-Straightnose, 16, has never stepped foot in a residential school, but she told CTV News that she lives with its impacts everyday.
"I have a mother that’s an addict, but she’s trying to clean herself up, but ever since I lost my brother, that’s when I lost my mother," she explained.
Sinclair-Straightnose said her grandmother has been her rock through it all. However, the matriarch acknowledges that she too has her own demons.
"I carry my dad's story. His sexual abuse started when he was eight, and I look at my little grandchildren – I can’t even imagine anybody doing that to them – and I think what my dad had to endure, and it’s very painful," Janice Straightnose said.
Chief Kitchemonia says he is trying to save what is left of his First Nation. He said the community needs trauma counselling, a methadone healing clinic and ambulance services but it’s difficult with little funding.
"We have one nurse for the entire community here and that’s not good," Kitchemonia said.
Instead, members are turning to their elders for guidance and they say regaining identity and returning to their culture and traditional ceremonies is the key to healing.
"Be proud of who you are. Don’t ever be ashamed, because that is what they try and do, they try and make us be ashamed of who we are," Straightnose said.