How the Stoney Nakoda Nation is marking Overdose Awareness Day

Some say the opioid epidemic has taken a turn for the worse on the reserve. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)
Some say the opioid epidemic has taken a turn for the worse on the reserve. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)

Members of the Stoney Nakoda Nation walked alongside each other Wednesday to raise awareness and remember those they've lost to drugs.

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, and the community marked it with a walk.

"I know they're a little young to understand what it is," said Amelia Rollingmud.

She walked with her young son and young granddaughter to teach them about drugs and the effects they've had on the community.

"I've always made sure communication is open, made sure they know this is what's happening to our people.… The outside world, they shelter their kids, but we have to teach them that this is how it is."

Rollingmud grew up on the Stoney Nakoda reserve and lives there today. On Wednesday, she thought of her first cousin, who died of an overdose last year.

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

According to the provincial government, 98 people in Alberta died from an opioid overdose in June, which marked a 20 per cent decrease over May — and a 44 per cent decrease compared with November, when the number of deaths peaked.

In June, 30 people fatally overdosed in Calgary, 42 in Edmonton.

A cultural connection

This walk has been taking place for three years, raising awareness about the opioid epidemic. Participants say remembering loved ones and educating youth is the key strategy for addressing the problem.

"We have elders going to schools teaching languages, we have our elders that work with us that do all the cultural teachings. I can see we're slowly starting to get back up there," said addictions counsellor TJ Powder.

Powder works with Stoney Health Services. He has lost two cousins to opioids and says the situation has taken a turn for the worse.

But he's hoping one of the solutions is rebuilding a cultural connection.

He says all he can do to prevent further loss is focus on healing one person at a time.