Cree community struggles with black market

Over two hundred residents of the Quebec Cree community of Chisasibi have met to discuss social issues caused by the illegal sale of drugs and alcohol. The meeting was prompted by three youth suicides which took place since January 2019, resulting in the public consultation to address the social issues caused by bootlegging and drug dealing.

Following the community meeting, Chisasibi chief and council had released an open letter to the community, urging residents to stop buying drugs or alcohol illegally. In the letter, the chief and council had offered some ideas to resolve the social issues arising from bootlegging and drug dealing in the community, including allowing local stores to sell alcohol and beer, eviction of bootleggers and drug dealers from public housing, facilitating family intervention therapy and focusing on elder teachings.

Chisasibi is a community with a population of more than 5,000 individuals in the James Bay region of Quebec. Roxanne Pelchat, a community worker for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, said that earlier this year, she had reached out to chief and council due to her and other colleagues becoming overwhelmed with the distress expressed by youth, including on social media. Pelchat told CBC News that the sale of illicit drugs and alcohol majorly contribute to the existing social issues in the community, and stem from the lack of communication skills between parents and children. Moreover, Pelchat said the community needs to organize family sharing circles. 

Irene Rupert, planning, programming and research officer for Maanuuhiikuu (Mental Health) in Chisasibi, said there is a need for establishing a community protocol to enable citizens to better recognize and know how to act when someone they know is in crisis or is at risk of suicide. “A lot of these youth seem to be using whatever substances that are available out there,” she said. “Some [are] just staying home with their video games and there’s nobody there to ask them how they’re doing,” she said.

Daisy House, Chisasibi deputy chief, said the community needs to work collaboratively to address the present issues. “We’re losing our values of how things were long ago,” she said. “[In the past], we were able to talk to one another and share our thoughts, feelings and tackle anything that came to us.” 

According to House, the council is currently compiling ideas and priorities previously identified at meetings to address the community’s social issues to add to the agenda of each council meeting to inform the community about their progress. In addition, the Chisasibi community is also considering extending a summer youth outreach program to the winter months. 

In 2018, Chisasibi Grand Chief and Chiefs of the nine Cree Nations of Eeyou Istchee had renewed their commitment to the 2010 Suicide Prevention Declaration. By re-signing the Declaration, the community leaders had agreed to continue working together on regional suicide prevention, intervention and postvention strategy (an intervention which is conducted after a suicide to help support bereaved family and friends) and to support community initiatives.

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