While pandemic has been getting much of the attention in the news for the entire year as many are falling ill, being hospitalized or succumbing to COVID-19, even more are continuing to die from opioids.
On traditional Blackfoot territory near the Piikani Nation community of Brocket, while holding crosses, a group of about 20 posed for an important photograph.
The Moms Stop the Harm group held their official sixth in a series of photos across the prairies which show people hold crosses and photos of their deceased loved ones due to opioid overdoses.
The group describes the reasoning for the different photoshoots as “a powerful statement to remember their loved ones lost from overdose and substance use-related causes, and to continue to draw attention so lives can be saved.” It is meant to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to tackle a crisis that affects all Canadians, and it aims to educate members of Piikani Nation about the supports available to them.
This was the first such photo on a First Nations Reserve. MSTH founder Petra Schulz says it was important to event to do as the indigenous community have been deeply affected in recent weeks but it wasn’t because of the number of recent deadly overdoses.
“We decided to have it in Southern Alberta and we were going to do it in February, then COVID happened,’ explains Schulz and they had to be concerned about social distancing and social numbers in complying with keeping people safe. They also had the community involved in the process. “This one was one of the most complex and took the most work. (Besides COVID considerations). We also were cultural sensitive and aware. We had a teepee set up and made sure we did all the arranging and it was okay.
“People connected cords culturally… you recognize that as Family you all feel the same: the same pain and the same grief.”
Brian Jackson, Band Council representing the Piikani Nation was in self-quarantine and not able to attend due to COVID-19 concerns. He said from all reports the photoshoot went well.
Jackson said there were some concerns raised about the photoshoot, some due to pandemic concerns but those were alleviated.
“It wasn’t that easy to do the photo shoot,” explains Jackson, who says there were aspects that needs compliance. “With COVID-19 considerations it was a balance. We stepped up precautionary measures.”
Jackson notes the area has lost residents to the opioid crisis.
“The opioid epidemic is far greater affecting the band (more than the COVID-19),” explains Jackson who notes there was six overdoses in the past six weeks. “There is a drug problem, and governments need to pay attention. Even with the pandemic we are in there are spikes in people using and even in deaths.
“It’s a huge question (on the next course of action). If it’s not tackled soon it will be out of control. The statistical numbers are huge.”
He explained on the Piikani Nation the leadership group is doing everything it can to help squash the problem. They looked towards traditional and historical means means and methods in order to help. For example they have the Brave Dogs group who for example provide foot patrol of the Piikani Nation to look for ’suspicious activity.”
There is a new curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“There are resources out there to help the community, the community is demanding and begging for help,” says Jackson. “We need to put some flesh on the bone now…task is huge.”