–a guest post by Julie Pellissier-Lush**
It was about a month ago that I was asked to write a blog on the Issues facing Aboriginal people here in Prince Edward Island. I took a few weeks to think this through and thought the best way to address it, was to combine the top issues and give my opinion on each.
There are so many issues that impact First Nations people, for instance for Lennox Island, it is the distance they are from Summerside. This is the closest city where they can shop at the bigger food stores and find employment off reserve. This is an issue but not one of the main issues but it contributes to employment rates and costs to those for food who do not drive or have a vehicle. Right now it costs a person twenty dollars for a drive to town to shop, and this has to come from somewhere, usually it comes from the food money. Over the last few months a van has been hired to drive people once and a while to town to shop, and this does help a little, but the issues still remain. In twenty years, I see more people leaving the community, for employment. I think it was called the “brain drain” at some point, where all the young people who have gained different talent and skills move away.
Now the biggest issue that I know of and it is a threefold issue. It starts with addictions and stems from employment and health. Why I say this, is most First Nations employment is based on their natural resources, which means it is seasonal. For Prince Edward Island it is fishing, and this creates a vicious cycle of feast or famine. I see it all the time where during fishing new things are bought like televisions and other toys. People like to celebrate when things are going good, so there are parties with drinking and some sampling of other harder addictive substances. When fishing is done, and addictions have taken hold soon all those toys are being sold and people are becoming depressed and angry over the situations that they feel they no longer have control over. This is not always the case, but I have seen it enough to know that it impacts so many people that it, in my opinion, is one of the biggest issues. It tears families apart and only grows after each season. Soon these people are unable to fish or hold down any job and they spiral until they hit rock bottom where they seek help or hurt themselves or others. In twenty years it will be the next generation that suffer, as they will learn this behaviour and will perpetuate the issue on and on. Another way that addictions come into our communities is through health. There are so many people that I know that are addicted to prescribed medications, which are prescribed by doctors. I know myself when my teenage son had his wisdom teeth removed, they gave me a prescription for drugs that were far too strong for him. I remember seeing the name on his prescription and I was so worried I gave them back and asked for Tylenol extra strength. He was fine with that, and did not become addicted to the numbing feeling of the higher opiate that the doctor felt was appropriate. What I have seen are people with an injury and ending up addicted to the pain relievers that were prescribed to help them. Once they are not allowed to get any medication, they suddenly develop chronic pain that needs more prescriptions or they transition to the street drugs that are just as damaging. What are the effects of these addictions? The results are mothers and fathers that cannot parent anymore and horrible behaviour that can result in criminal prosecution and jail time. The results for the children is that they grow up knowing that they are not as important as the addictions that their parents are going through and acting out to the point where they end up in care, away from their family and community. In twenty years these young people will be angry young adults who have no connection to their culture and will be attempting to raise their own children without the gift of knowing how to parent with the love, kindness and forgiveness that is needed to be a good parent. That is not including the children that are later diagnosed with FASD or ADD from drug and alcohol use while they were in their Mom’s bellies. The studies on these are all over, and will soon be labeled as brain injuries because of the huge amounts of brain damages suffered by these children. The simple ability to understand cause and effect is gone and the short term memory is either gone or severely damaged. These young people will grow up and never be able to hold down a job that isn’t repetitive, never get a driver’s license, and can also be the ones who grow up and since they do not understand cause and effect will be the ones who drink and do drugs while pregnant and have another generation of challenged young people. The cycle continues and grows with each generation until doctors stop prescribing highly addictive pain killers and the First Nations communities figure out a way to set up seasonal work to be paid out like school teachers. The lump sum is totalled and divided by twelve months so seasonal employment can be paid out all year, without the feast or famine set up that it is now.
The last one I wanted to touch on in this blog, is assault, from verbal abuse, to sexual and physical assault. From residential school, and intergeneration addictions comes the legacy of abuse to all community members, women, children, young adults and men. I heard a story from a few years ago about a young man who was beaten really bad and later at the hospital he was asked to press charges and his response was, ‘Why?’ His ego, his pride was so low that he saw no reason to even stand up for himself to fight the people who had hurt him. In our small communities we are all related, or connected in some way. It is just understood that if you persecute one person, it is understood that you are going after their family, so many do not fight injustices that happen to them, from child abuse, to domestic abuse, to an undeserved beating. I hear of these things and it makes me worry, it is basic human rights for every individual to feel safe and protected in their community. When action is taken against someone who hurt you or your family and it is properly addressed with some kind of sentence, the perpetrator could move right next door to the victim when they are done their time. Not to mention the victim having to deal with the perpetrator’s family and friends while he/she is being punished. First Nation’s communities have become individual family units that stand up for each other and fight for each other, without looking at the community as a whole. People do not want to come forward if they have been assaulted because it is not just the name of the perpetrator that gets thrown around in public, it is also the victim. The victim goes under the microscope as well, and the community memory is long, does a Mom want their child to be known forever as a victim of assault? Does a man want to be remembered as the person who couldn’t take a beating? I see things slowly changing, where people are gaining more pride, and stand up for themselves, no matter what cost. In twenty years I hope that every person, young or old, male or female will stand up on their own feelings of self-worth and not be pushed down anymore. This will create a community where everyone can feel safe again, and to me, for that to happen is we need to bring the culture back into our communities. Traditionally women were respected, looked up to as the life givers, children were considered the next generation that we all had a responsibility to care for and nurture to be our future leaders. Men were the protectors, the providers, they looked after their women and children and taught their boys how to be real men. Once we bring culture back, these lessons should come back as well, and the pride will come back and there will be less victims of verbal abuse, sexual and physical assaults.
This is just my opinion on what I feel are the biggest issues of the First Nations Communities here in Prince Edward Island. I have no written proof, or statistics that would back these up, it is just what I see and feel.
**Julie Pellissier-Lush, a member of the Lennox Island First Nation, is a mother, a writer, a poet, and a photographer. She is also the Managing Editor of the Kwimu Messenger with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI. She is the proud author of the book “My Mi’kmaq Mother” (2009), and she can be found blogging at http://mymikmaqmother.wordpress.com/.
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