As Indigenous / Native / Aboriginal people, we face higher rates of violence, death, incarceration, child theft than non-Indigenous people. We have also been, and continue to be, amazing at finding ways to survive. We are smart and creative, resilient and resourceful.
Substances are often used as medicines to help us survive. We use them to help us get through the day – to increase our energy, to unwind after a hard day. Rarely is anyone truly sober when we have things to help us through the day such as caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks), salt, sugar, fats, screen time (Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? , Facebook founder warns of social media addiction, What happens to your brain when you binge-watch a TV series), etc. There’s so many double doubles at the powwow you’d think Timmy’s was the sponsor! But we rarely shame people for using these things. Why do we draw these lines about what is okay and what isn’t? Who benefits when we shame each other? How do we shift when a substance, such as marijuana, is illegal one day and legal the next?
We strive to talk about substance use in ways that embrace the messiness, complexity, and multiple truths by acknowledging that:
- Indigenous people have been hurt by the behavior and actions of people who use substances (remembering too that Indigenous people have also been hurt by the behavior and actions of people who don’t use substances);
- substance use helps people cope and keep living;
- shame, stigma, and judgment of substance use causes harm to the person being shamed which in turn often causes harm to others because we hide our use and engage in harmful behaviors in order to use;
- abstinence works for some people but not everyone and that’s okay;
- abstinence doesn’t mean you automatically show up in better ways;
- people who use substances are valuable members of our community;
- colonization has been very violent to our communities and has shaped how we consume substances and how we think about substances.