Meth and Indigenous communities

Last spring I taught a course on the Global Drug trade. For some reason, cocaine is the drug which draws the most media attention, whether it be in television series such as Narcos, or in novels. Certainly in the United States people think of Latin America when they think of the drug trade. But of course our current drug trade is heavily shaped by the opioid and heroin epidemic, which has its base in the golden triangle of Asia. Fentanyl receives a great deal of media coverage, and China may be the major supplier of this drug. While all of this may sound abstract, when my class covers the opioid epidemic each year the impact of opioids is all too clear, as my students relate histories of family loss and tragedy. The drugs that cause the most suffering -opioids and meth- seldom feature in television series.

In the American West meth has not gone away. It remains a commonly used drug, particularly in the rural areas. Many local authorities feel that this drug has been forgotten. North of the border, Indigenous communities have particularly impacted by this trade as a CBC article makes clear: Crystal meth crisis on Saskatchewan First Nation traced to 2015 wildfire evacuation. This article is heartbreaking to read. The subtitle for the article reads: “Officials at Montreal Lake Cree Nation identify 600 meth users in community of 1,200.”

The particular epidemic has its roots in trauma. If one looks at the history of many Algonquian communities since the 19th century, they have endured land loss, the imposition of an alien legal systems, the residential school system, and introduced epidemic diseases, such as tuberculosis. The long term social costs of settler colonialism upon these communities has been immense. Now drugs are impacting these nations, in this case after its people suffered an evacuation from a wildfire. While this particular reserve is the focus of attention in this article, urban Indigenous populations also are at risk. Of course, the past cannot be undone. But as we discuss the opioid and meth epidemic, its important to remember its link to trauma, and to think how the state can better support affected Indigenous communities. While this article focuses upon one Canadian nation, there are similar challenges involving substance abuse in Indigenous communities from central Australia to the American West, which seldom receive much media coverage or official support.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

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