Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

How First Nations People Cure Their Own Addictions

Curing First Nations malaise

I partner with a recovered addict named Scott Gallagher in presenting addiction-prevention programs to high school kids and their parents. Last week we met in a far north region of British Columbia to present at a secondary school in an indescribably beautiful river valley where a group of First Nations People have several villages.

Substance abuse is rife. Some people believe the situation is actually worsening as young First Nation People seemingly become more alienated from the mainstream culture while being attracted to its darker and superficial (e.g., pop entertainment) values.

They are still searching for a balance between traditional cultural values and participaton in the white world. How do you strengthen family and community ties while arming young people to get constructively involved in the broader economy and culture?

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Alcoholics Anonymous is certainly not a good fit (although some peope try to give it a native hue). Convincing native peoples overpowered by the white culture that they are powerless and need to follow the white man's god reeks of the residential schools where native children were previously sent to be shorn of their tribal identities.

It seems ironic to many that First Nations communities and families are often quite potent, and yet they don't work to enforce values of sobriety. Perhaps this is due to a cultural attitude that can only be called "live-and-let-live."

Scott and I have struck on the chord of reinforcing these community institutions in order to combat addiction. When one woman described her heartbreak because a brother was again turning towards alcoholism despite a number of successes, we discussed utilizing a reinforcement approach in which she could deny him any help for dealing with the consequnces of his drinking, but offer him all of her resources when he pursued the opportunites he has been rejecting.

At the village level, we spoke with an elder about a process of community outing of drug dealers and bootlegers (alcohol sales are illegal in these communities). But First Peoples are slow to turn their members over to the Royal Candian Mounted Police. Instead, this process involves making violators aware of the negative impact they are having on the community -- which no ones likes to admit to -- and turning them instead towards helping their brethren.

We spoke with one woman, a drug ealer and an addict who didn't live with her four children who said she wanted to reject her past, about becoming involved with her youngest daughter's school and contributing her skills as community resources in other ways.

It is hard to know how the 21st Century will pan out for the First Nations. I only know this -- it is with rediscovery of their own potency that they wll survive and thrive.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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