The Mistissini Band Council’s recent decision to reject a Cage-aux-sports style resto-bar in the community is raising many questions. The first being, Why was it shot down so hastily?
Calvin Blacksmith may or may not have been the right person to end the ban on alcohol sales in the community. He is, after all, on leave of absence from his job as Police Director and currently sits as a band councillor.
But should the debate die there?
Chief John Longchap finally gave in to pressure Blacksmith had been exerting for over a year by holding a meeting on March 20 to discuss the issue. After 31 people in the community of 3,000 opposed the idea, Chief Longchap declared the idea dead. The people, apparently, had spoken.
Director of Social Development Jane Blacksmith was at the meeting and is adamantly opposed to the idea of a bar under any circumstances, reasoning that the community has not “healed.”
“I asked them, ‘Can you wait for us to heal so we might be able to drink socially in the future?”’ she said. “Right now we’re using alcohol to mask our pain, to numb our pain. We’re a very hurting community.”
Bootleggers are already making a killing by selling alcohol to underage kids at all hours of the night. What is being done about that? It’s not like no one knows who they are, so why the double standard? If alcohol is so bad, why not kick these blind pigs to the curb?
The residential-school era left behind a legacy of alcohol abuse and self-loathing. It turned some innocent children into sexual and mental and physical abusers later on in life. Everyone is still suffering the effects, whether they saw first-hand the horrible conditions in the schools or not.
That era will continue to hurt Crees until it is properly dealt with. Counseling is a good start, but we all know that there are few mental health professionals in Eeyou Istchee. And none that speak Cree.
It’s no wonder many Crees turn to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain. But by banning alcohol in the territory, it sends a message that Native people cannot drink responsibly.
Of course there are people who cannot handle their alcohol intake and should not drink. They’re called alcoholics. In the worst cases, these people keep the circle of abuse alive by abusing others. Some end up in jail.
By bunching everyone else into the same group, the message is that Crees are all essentially alcoholics – and that’s wrong.
Jane Blacksmith admitted to being an alcoholic herself. She has now been sober for almost five years and has made it clear she is against the idea of a bar in Mistissini, at least for the short term. What about the other less-vocal, social drinkers out there? Where do they go? Why do they have to be penalized?
The crosses on the side of the road caution motorists of the dangers of making the one-hour drive to Chibougamau to have a drink. They were put there to remember those lost to the horrors of drunk driving.
Crees are one of the few peoples denied the freedom to buy or sell alcohol in their own communities. The irony here is it is no longer the paternalistic federal government that is stopping them. It’s the band councils and religious groups that believe alcohol has no place in town, and they represent the most vocal members of the community.
So where does the Cree Nation go from here? Should we continue to treat Eenouch like children and not allow the sale or distribution of alcohol because no one in the community can be trusted to have a few drinks?
Or is it better to become a progressive Nation that allows, under the scrutiny of an alcohol control board, the sale of alcohol to help the community to heal by giving them more responsibility and the ability to make their own choices?