Substance abuse and interrelated mental health issues have had, and continue to have, a strong negative impact on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) communities throughout Canada. Whether on the reservation or on the streets of Toronto, FNMI people who could be vital to their families and communities are struggling with drugs and alcohol. Many of these people, young and old, attribute their battles with substance abuse to issues of trauma such as:
- Systemic abuse and discrimination
- Alcoholism/addiction in their families of origin
- Intergenerational and childhood trauma
- Loss of traditions and attempted erasure of cultural identity by the dominant culture
- Tragic events and abuses such as Residential Schools
While Premier Wynne has officially apologized to FNMI communities, words only go so far; there is a long way to go for those who have suffered generations upon generations of cultural and physical genocide. With a past informed by such pain, FNMI communities often face barriers to moving forward. Substance abuse is one such barrier.
Addiction Recovery to Meet the Needs of Indigenous Peoples
While there are proven strategies and methods around getting sober and staying that way, it’s important to acknowledge the unique experience and issues of concern to FNMI people when it comes to substance abuse recovery. Understanding that people who identify as First Nations, Metis, or Inuit belong to a systemically marginalized group, and coming from a recovery model based on an anti-oppressive framework, ensures our recovery program at Renascent can provide an excellent treatment option for FNMI people.
While some government-sponsored addiction recovery programs for FNMI Canadians are strictly for those who identify as Indigenous, at Renascent, we have woven programming into our addiction recovery services to better meet the needs of FNMI youth, women, people with mental health issues, and other people of proud heritage who are struggling with the destructive effects of alcohol and drug addictions.
Abstinence-Based Approach to Recovery with a Healing Difference
Our abstinence based approach to substance abuse recovery is founded on the Twelve Steps philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose principles are entirely compatible with FNMI teachings. Renascent facilitates recovery, education and prevention relating to alcohol and drug addictions through a full range of individual and group programs as well as services for individuals and families. Taking a spiritual approach to recovery as well as a very practical evidence-based approach, has helped over 45,000 people recover in the past four decades – and helped countless families heal from the searing effects of drug abuse on their lives.
Our fully certified counsellors have lived experience with addictions and embrace a strengths-based approach to recovery wherein the client’s core abilities and beliefs are true assets to recovery. Thus, we welcome First Nations, Metis, and Inuit clients who wish to integrate their culture, traditional healing methods, spiritual practices, and beliefs into the healing process.
Your pathway to recovery begins at Renascent. Call to find out how.
by Julie B.
I’m an urban Aboriginal person who was raised by a single mother of European descent.
Although I did beadwork and occasionally went to powwows, I didn’t subscribe to − and was never really exposed to − any traditional Anishinaabe cultural practices or spiritual beliefs.
The only spiritual connection I had when I was drinking was that I worshipped my next bottle of wine. I drank heavily for over 20 years, and drank daily for the last 10. I was high-functioning for someone with extremely low expectations. For a long time, I knew that I was an alcoholic, but I didn’t care.
Then one day I decided I wanted to live. When I finally sought treatment, I was drinking almost constantly from the time I woke up to the time I passed out at night. I had tried to stop repeatedly but I couldn’t, and that scared the hell out of me.
When I first got sober, almost three years ago, I lost my connection to alcohol. Alcohol had been my constant companion and best friend, even though it was slowly killing me. I had abandoned my friends, family and myself in order to keep drinking. When I finally faced the world in sobriety, I felt empty and alone. As a result, I had to learn how to connect with people and myself all over again − or perhaps for the first time.
I first found a spiritual connection on a camping trip. I started taking photos of a chipmunk I’d befriended, and I was so lost in joy that I didn’t feel the craving to drink.
I also went back to university. The first class I took was an introduction to Indigenous studies. While learning of the history of my ancestors, I often cried in class. But I also learned about the Indigenous beliefs of living in concert with nature, and how everything is interconnected. I learned about ceremony and resilience. I went to a powwow, where I just cried for all the trauma that my ancestors had endured. However, I also felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t know anything about the dances, the regalia or the ceremonies, so I decided to learn more.
As I continued my formal education, I also started going to community events. I asked Elders for guidance on becoming more involved. Mostly, I just hung around, observed ceremonies, and copied what other people were doing.
The first time I smudged, I felt a connection to something I can’t fully understand. When I was surrounded by the smoke from the burning medicines, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. It felt like going home to a place I’d never been before. I can’t explain it − I just felt better.
I went to see a traditional counsellor for the first time right before a camping trip. After my counselling session, I had the most intensely spiritual moment of my life. Arriving at the campground as the sun was setting, I climbed a hill near the lake to make an offering and say a prayer. I had never prayed before, so I brought a photocopy of a prayer to the Great Spirit that I had grabbed from the lobby on my way out from meeting the counsellor. The prayer asked for strength and intelligence − not to conquer my enemies, but to fight the enemy within.
I left an offering of berries by a tree stump and walked down a granite slab to the water’s edge. I was alone, overlooking a quiet beach. I closed my eyes for a few minutes to meditate.
When I opened them and looked across the water, a deer came out of the woods and stared right at me. I instantly felt a happiness that I had not felt in years. I was in awe, and crying tears of joy. Then another deer came out of the woods! I couldn’t believe I was the only one there to see this. The deer were drinking from the lake, and one of them was playing with a frog. They were peaceful and carefree − two qualities that had been missing from my life since I quit drinking.
It’s difficult to describe, but those few minutes felt magical and life-changing. I don’t know if it was the result of the offering and prayer or just a coincidence, but I do know it was the most spiritual experience of my life. I also know that it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten sober. I had to become fully present in my life in order to experience that connection with nature.
This year I plan to celebrate National Aboriginal Day with my friends, and if I cry at the powwow, they will be tears of gratitude for the gift of being alive.
We participate in a cycle of seasons. Every four years when it looks like everything has turned to crap, it really hasn’t. It’s part of the natural growth process for each of us to go through a winter season. One season is not better or worse than the other. Each season has its purpose. So we should not dread winter. The winter time is a time for renewal.
by Joe S.
I am First Nations of the Algonquin Wolf Lake Band. I am very proud of my heritage. This is the first part of spirituality – being proud of where I came from and of who I am. Another big part to me is that 2000 years ago a Man came to earth and He taught us to love one another without conditions. This is spirituality at its finest – to love unconditionally.
I grew up in an alcoholic home with my brother and mother. My dad walked out on me at an early age. My brother was very violent. I didn’t grow up on a reserve but in little town in Quebec, northwest of Ottawa. We were the only native people in that town. My mother, God love her, taught me about my native traditions as a young man. But I started drinking at an early age and did not hear any of it.
When I sobered up I started to learn about my native culture and traditions such as the sacred medicines: tobacco, sage, cedar and sweet grass, and the seven grandfather teachings: honesty, love, humility, courage, respect, wisdom and truth. These are the same principles as in AA. Today I want these traditions to be a part of my life.
My last drink was on October 23, 1990 and I remember it like it was yesterday. I had my very first spiritual experience that night. Something happened to me that was very powerful. I looked around the bar I was in and I did not want to be there. I did not want to drink and I did not know how to stop. I was at a place of destiny with nowhere to turn but back to God. What a place to be.
I guess at that time you could consider me an agnostic. God’s Grace entered me for the first time in my life that night. What an unbelievable moment. I do not believe we know when we are going to take our last drink because if we knew we would not need AA or treatment centres.
My second spiritual experience was when I came back to a meeting and again something happened to me. I felt the Grace of God in that meeting. I had been around AA since 1984 but had never surrendered. That night at the AA meeting the word God was mentioned and my fists clenched and I got upset. I was agnostic then so God meant nothing to me. I wanted to leave but something on the inside of me told me to stay and listen.
An old timer at that meeting said something and the penny dropped for the first time in my life. I heard what I needed to save my life. He said to join a group, get a sponsor, get active in your home group and put the word God on the backburner for now. He said keep coming back until you come to believe in something that makes sense to you.
I could join a group and I could get a sponsor, this I could do. I did not know what to expect but I could deal with this. All I had to do was to get to meetings for now because there I knew I would be safe.
I got a sponsor and we got to work on the steps. I started to come to believe in a Higher Power and I started to call that Higher Power God. Alcohol was my Power for a long time and now it was God and AA. I was praying every day, asking for help with my sobriety.
My wife started to trust me again. We have been together for 30 or more years now. I put my wife through hell when I was drinking. Today I have a choice.
What does spirituality mean to me? Spirituality is a part of surrender. It is also being okay with who and what I am today. Spirituality is helping another human being with no thought of reward for myself. Spirituality is from within. To find your own Higher Power or spirituality you need to wade through all sorts of different ideas and traditions to find what appeals to you, what you like and what makes you feel good. A genuine relationship with God – that is the true essence of Spirituality. God lives on the inside of me today.
God gave me my life back – that’s His gift to me. When I help another alcoholic get sober, that’s my gift back to God.