I have been watching some good movies lately. One titled “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was about a group of older English retirees who move to Jaipur, a city in India, to live in a hotel converted into a senior citizen’s home. A line from that movie – “Things will work out in the end. If they do not, then it is not the end.” – made me realize how important it is never to give up.
I recall as a teenager many times I felt like just ending it all. At some dark points in my life, it seemed like I was living in complete dysfunction and nothing was working out. At times it felt like I was neither alive nor dead. I was confused and numb. I couldn’t really feel things anymore. It wasn’t so bad when I was a child but when I became a teenager and started drinking, everything took a turn for the worse.
I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. I survived this terrible period and managed to find a way out by getting a handle on my alcoholism so that I could become a recovering alcoholic and lead a clean and sober life.
I say that I am fortunate because I could have become one of the many First Nation young people to have committed suicide. Suicide is almost an epidemic in most Native communities and much of it has to do with alcoholism and drug addictions. Of course, poor living conditions, racism, bigotry and a hopelessness is fertile ground where alcohol and drug addiction grows. I have heard too many times, the sad news of friends who have ended their lives and in most cases they have done so under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I recall being in situations where I was drunk and out of my mind and thoughts of suicide was an option. Thankfully, for whatever reason, I made it through these sad times.
Too many young people in First Nations right across this country are feeling like failures and in many cases are made to feel less than perfect because of pressures from society and the fact that racism is still alive and thriving in a lot of non-Native communities where many of these young people go to school. Life is confusing for First Nation youth because on one hand they are still living life as brown-skinned Aboriginal people while also trying to fit into a modern and mostly white powered world. These youth are listening to the latest pop music, dressing in the new trendy styles and following the fashion and music icons of the day. Part of this reality includes alcohol and drug use.
I can recall that I could justify my alcoholism and drug addiction for so many reasons. The addictions were a cool way to fit into the trendy world of what all the famous figures were doing in public life. Alcohol and drugs were a way to become cool. When I found that I could not be as cool as what the magazines and movies portrayed, then I used alcohol and drugs as a way to escape my reality.
Today, right across Canada, many First Nations are sitting on top of treasures, as mining, forestry and hydro companies are interested in resource development on traditional Native lands. We are at the point where our First Nation leadership can be negotiating good agreements with government and resource development companies that benefit our Native communities. If we can provide a percentage of this wealth from these developments to go towards our First Nation communities then we would not have to be as dependent on the government for our lives.
If there is enough good will on all sides, than we can create more positive environments in our First Nations through resource developments, so that our youth can get training and educational opportunities that can lead to real employment. Every municipality across the country can tax industry and develop an income from it but First Nations can’t. We need to change that. If all of the stakeholders can meet at the table and work out good agreements then everyone can benefit. First Nation people are also very concerned about environment impacts because their traditional lives on the land must be protected. After the gold and diamonds are gone there must still be a life on the land.
I believe that with more opportunities and hope in First Nations the result will be fewer suicides. However, I also believe in the short term that our Native leadership and government must find the way to more effectively bring alcohol and drug treatment programs into our schools and communities. We need to do this quickly as too many of our young people are dying by their own hand. We can do something about it.
We need to convince our young people that they need to hang in there and have some patience as things will get better. We need to dedicate the finances, human resources and skills to help our youth right now. They have to remember that “Everything will work out in the end. If it does not work out, then it is not the end.”