The community has spoken.
In a six-hour meeting that attracted over 350 people to the elementary school in Mistissini, 31 out of 33 people walked up to the microphone and spoke out against the proposed idea of a resto-bar similar to Kuujuarapik’s social club.
Billing his proposal as a ‘Cage aux Sports’ knockoff that will help to teach people to drink properly, Band Councilor and Chief-of-Police-on-hiatus Calvin Blacksmith was disappointed by the March 20 outcome.
“We walked into an ambush,” he said. “People went back to 50, 60 years ago with problems they encountered as consumers of alcohol. That was pretty much the whole discussion about past experiences, they didn’t come out with any solutions for the problems we have in the community.”
Blacksmith argued that in order to move past community battles with alcohol, the people have to move on and accept the reality – people want to drink responsibly and are sick of being told what to do.
“We listened to all the people and it was like an AA meeting with people talking about the past and how they used to live,” he said. “A lot of people who spoke were part of religious groups. The only thing I can say is if they are stuck in the old days, then why do they say they’re born-again Christian?”
Blacksmith said that the by-law to sell alcohol in the community only allows for special events, but he doesn’t see how a full-time establishment would harm Mistissini. In fact, along with his promise to help to teach people how to drink properly, he said that there would be a stringent rule in place to refuse service to overly intoxicated patrons. He also said his proposal would supply a safe and friendly atmosphere in which to drink socially during a sporting event.
He believes that having people stay in the community when drinking reduces the risk of venturing to Chibougamau and running the risk of killing or being killed while drinking and driving.
Director of Social Development Jane Blacksmith begged to differ. She agreed whole-heartedly with the community’s stance.
“The people spoke,” she said. “They talked about the many crises and situations that have happened in our community that are alcohol-related. There was an overall opposition to bringing in the sale of alcohol to our community.”
Jane Blacksmith admitted she is a recovering alcoholic whohas been sober for nearly five years. Her children are still dealing with the effects her lifestyle had on them, as some have now become alcoholics themselves.
“I tried to be a social drinker at the beginning, but like everybody else in my community, I had issues. I had skeletons in my closet that I had not dealt with,” she said. “I was trying to numb my pain with alcohol.”
She said that she realizes the inevitability of a bar coming to Mistissini, however.
“I asked them, ‘Can you wait for us to heal so we might be able to drink socially in the future?
’ Right now we’re using alcohol to mask our pain, to numb our pain. We’re a very hurting community and we know that and everybody knows that.”
Chief John Longchap was at the meeting, but could not be reached for comment.
A letter faxed to the Nation and signed by Elders’ Chief Willy Loon read in part:”This does not look good for the way we want to treat our community members. This will hurt our people.
We have to look at the future how where (sic) going to help them in the future through our knowledge.
…. the position of the Elders Council we do not permit for such a business venture or sale of alcohol in our community.”“What was witnessed was the kind of immature people we have in the community,” said Calvin Blacksmith. “I was shocked to see them acting this way. They said, ‘We know how you guys are when you’re under the influence of alcohol.’ Clifford (Benac) and I used to play hockey together and one guy accused me of offering a 15-year-old alcohol. I don’t remember that. There were all kinds of allegations. I don’t hide, I’m a big flirt and I talk to women, I don’t deny it. I’m very open to it. That was the point he was trying to assert, but he exaggerated.”
He said that people who accuse him and his partner Clifford Benac of only being in it for the money are shortsighted. He is hoping to demonstrate to his three children what it means to drink responsible and not to binge drink.
“As an entrepreneur there are costs associated in terms of building,” he said. “Plus if the building was on the outskirts there will be major expenses. I don’t think our people know how fortunate they are in the communities because everything is paid by government funds. But as an entrepreneur we know we wouldn’t make money for three or four years.”