CHIPPEWAS OF THE THAMES FIRST NATION – Dozens of people gathered Tuesday in this Indigenous community southwest of London to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.
About 50 people gathered at the site of a former residential school for the walk, part of a global event intended to end drug overdoses, remember those who have died from them and acknowledge family members and friends grieving the loss of loved ones.
“This is a small piece of our healing and we have a long way to go,” said Gloria Boutcher of the Cultural Outreach Harm Reduction team at Chippewa Health Centre that organized the local event.
“We’re all connected and interconnected across Turtle Island. Every community suffers from high numbers of overdose, addiction and trauma.
"To end overdose, we need to meet people where they’re at.”
Boutcher's team provides supports and services to people dealing with substance abuse. It serves three First Nations communities: Chippewas of the Thames, Munsee-Delaware First Nation, and Oneida Nation of the Thames.
Tuesday's event began with a sunrise ceremony, followed by a breakfast and two-kilometre walk from the Mount Elgin Residential School monument to the Chippewa ball park. It closed with a sharing circle, where some participants shared their stories of strength and healing in defeating drug overdose.
Though recognized on an international scale, the event hit home for many in the First Nations communities.
Amber MacDougall of Oneida Nation of the Thames didn't just battle addiction, she overcame it.
“I know several people struggling with addiction and some who have passed,” MacDougall said. “I'm really glad people are bringing awareness to this issue,” she added, as she embarked on the walk.
MacDougall said her hope is to shed light on the topic and support others in her community who are struggling with addiction.
"It's a miracle that I'm here and that I am well, and that I can help others overcome this."
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press