Driftpile residents taking a stand in crystal meth crisis
For the Lakeside Leader
Driftpile First Nations Elder Marcella Estachikon knows first-hand the tragedy crystal meth can cause.
“I’m here because I had a grandson. He took meth and he’s not my grandson anymore.”
Estachikon was one of about 20 people attending a meth awareness campaign on Highway 2 across from the band office July 11 just after 4 p.m. The number grew to over 60 by 5 p.m.
The campaign was partly sparked by the tragic incident on the reserve late July 8 or early July 9 that police are calling a “suspicious death”. Social media is rampant with posts the incident was linked to meth usage.
However, the people supporting the campaign are clear it’s a problem that’s been brewing a long time.
Estachikon knows it too well. She says her grandson was getting treatment for meth “but we don’t know if he’ll come back the same.”
She says it was very hard to witness the change in his personality and physical well-being, so now was the time to take a stand.
“I don’t care who reads [this] because someone has to speak up,” she says.
When her grandson began taking meth, Estachikon recalls he no longer knew himself or what he was doing.
“He got treatment but he was let out and he was totally different,” she says. “We thought he was good to come home.”
However, he relapsed and is back in treatment.
Driftpile resident June Laboucan has seven children and one grandchild. She worries about the problem and for the future of her children.
“It’s serious,” she says. “I guess chief and council, we want them to help in this situation. Regional Police, too. We want more patrols and enforcement.”
She is encouraged by the support from passing motorists who honk their horns and wave. She says they plan to continue the campaign every day until they feel they’ve made a difference.
Renee Chalifoux is also a band member and has four children. She calls the meth problem an epidemic due in part to continuing cycles of despair and poverty.
“We have to try to generate awareness,” she says.
She says there is only so much chief and council, and police can do, and believes a co-ordinated effort from all parties might make a difference.
“We’re sick and tired of seeing our people struggle,” she says.
“Making a stand in our community will help set a precedent. We’re tired of the cycle.”
She was encouraged when Peace River – Westlock MP Arnold Viersen stopped by July 10 to offer support.
“He had a lot of empathy for us,” says Chalifoux. “He offered help and said to contact him.”
What is needed, she says, is funding to stop the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as poverty. Effort is desperately needed to acknowledge the problem, then tackle the issue together.
Sandee Giroux-Willier attended the campaign July 11 with her granddaughter. She is Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council’s opioid awareness co-ordinator.
“I am glad they are taking a stand,” she says of the residents. “The message will get out.”
Giroux-Willier has stats for the five reserves she serves [Driftpile, Kapawe’no, Sawridge, Sucker Creek, and Swan River] and agrees the problem is serious.
“Meth is the drug of choice,” she says.
“I’ve done presentations on all the First Nations and attendance has been high. There’s concern on all the Nations.”
She believes awareness must be achieved first which is why she sees the campaign as a positive step.
“What we need to be doing is more awareness,” she says.
“What meth can do, what opioids can do.”
Giroux-Willier was busy handing out information on the matter at the campaign.
She also urges individuals to take on the task of learning about meth and opioids themselves.
“It’s all over the Internet,” she says. “Get yourself self-educated.
In particular, she urges everyone to go to Faces of Meth website, which shows the harmful effects of the drug. It is graphic but it is real on what can happen to anyone.
Hopefully, it’s not too late for Estachikon and her grandson, and in the larger picture, everyone else.
The campaign continues each day from 4-6 p.m.