Earlier in July, Walpole Island First Nation, a community situated south of Sarnia, Ont., declared a state of emergency to help stop a spike in overdoses. Opiates and, specifically fentanyl have been determined as the leading cause of the growing numbers of overdoses and deaths in the community over the last year and a half.
In his interview with CBC News, Band Coun. Cody Miskokomon said that the drug problem affecting the community is like a “virus” and is devastating families, including his own.
“Having to bury a little cousin … really, really touched me in that area,” said Miskokomon, “She was in her early 20s, life of the family, very high-spirited, you know. You’d always get a laugh out of her…. The drug took her away.”
Miskokomon added that losing young people is hurting the broader community, while also taking away from their culture, heritage and future. “That’s a pain and that needs to be healed,” he said.
Walpole Island police officers have expressed concerns regarding drug-smuggling operations, while Ontario Provincial Police have been called in to help. According to Chief Sampson, smuggling suspects are in “full swing” in the community.
“They have established footholds here on the reserve, and it has spread to include almost, from last count, 28 to 30 outlets for illicit drugs here on Walpole Island,” Chief Sampson said, referring to drug houses where narcotics are sold.
However, proper evidence will be needed in order to take the suspects into custody, and according to Sampson, this process is currently underway.
A checkpoint was set up at the border of Walpole Island First Nation earlier in August to deter drugs from being smuggled in. The checkpoint is staffed by security guards who can ask for names and check IDs, but are not authorized to inspect vehicles.
The local police service has made the decision not to staff the checkpoint with police officers in order to keep the police force focused on investigative tasks.
“If we’re gonna fight this drug problem, we need our officers on the road,” police chief Chad Jacobs said.
So far, the checkpoints have received mixed feedback from the community. While some band members have expressed approval of their use, others have questioned their purpose.
According to Chief Jacobs, although the checkpoint might be slowing down the amount of drugs coming into the community, it is not preventing the drugs from coming in. As well, Chief Jacobs believes some community members are bringing drugs in.
Community leaders have suggested that trauma felt by community members this past year when unmarked graves were uncovered near former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan may be linked with increased drug use.
“Drugs are a gateway for [people] to just have peace of mind, I would guess,” said band member Lynette Isaac, who recently lost her adoptive sister to a fentanyl overdose.