M’Chigeeng’s ‘Legendary’ group initiates white cross installation emphasizing local scope of opioid deaths

Members of the Legendary group in M’Chigeeng First Nation unveil the ‘Crosses for Change’ sign at the memorial site in the community, last Saturday. photos by Tom Sasvari

M’CHIGEENG – The Legendary group, in M’Chigeeng First Nation, is hoping that by providing care and comforting support for all those families and individuals from any Island community who are dealing with someone they have lost to drug addiction, there will be no more crosses added to the seven already located at the Crosses for Change memorial site in the community. Each of the seven crosses established at the site, beside the M’Chigeeng band office, represent a community member who has been lost to drug addiction.

“I would like to thank everyone for being here today,” stated Kim Aelick of the Legendary group at the unveiling of a new sign erected on the memorial site last Saturday. The sign reads, “Crosses for Change. Honouring our loved ones taken too soon. Your community cares!”

“Our plan was to unveil this sign during Addictions Awareness Day at the end of August,” said Ms. Aelick, noting this had to be delayed due to the current pandemic. “Our Legendary group wants to get the message out there that our thoughts and prayers go out to all those individuals who have passed, and to their families and those who know and are trying to help someone struggling with drug abuse. We are here to listen and help.”

“We have all been touched by this, knowing someone who has struggled with drug abuse and addictions,” said Ms. Aelick. “This memorial will always be here, but we don’t want any others to join our memorial now or in the future because of the opioid crisis.” 

“We want to remember all those who are struggling, and those who know someone who is struggling with drug issues, that we put out our hand and want to help you. We are all here to support the families and individuals who have or are being affected,” said Ms. Aelick.

“And we know that the past couple of years haven’t been easy for any family, or the community,” said Ms. Aelick. She explained that Denise Sandul, of Sudbury, who originally developed The Crosses for Change site in the city said it was okay that this similar program and sign could be set up in M’Chigeeng indicating to everyone in the community and throughout Manitoulin that help and support is available.

Crystal Taibossigai, also of Legendary, said, “I would also like to thank everyone for coming out here today. “The community has had a very rough couple of years with so many families having been affected with someone with drug abuse and addictions. Addiction is not discriminatory, it can affect anyone and everyone. But there is support here and we want to continue to get the word out to those there is someone to talk to, someone you can reach out to and receive support and talk to.” She noted this issue is not just in the community but is a worldwide concern.

Ms. Aelick pointed out “we have a peer support group. Our group started about a year and a half ago, when we suffered losses in the community and were really struggling. These losses included person(s) that we would never have expected would be dealing with addiction.” A group of us (six) were sitting at a kitchen table (in M’Chigeeng) and were all grieving lives lost too early to opioid or other substance overdose and we were wondering what we could do to help and this was it.”

The group has two goals: one is to raise awareness about drugs in the community and to provide an opportunity to get Naloxone kits out in the community as well. Naloxone, if administered quickly to a person with opioid overdose symptoms, is a life-saving product. It is simple to administer and is offered at no charge. 

“One of the things that has come out of all of this is the peer support group (which meets regularly),” said Ms. Aelick, “and having a peer support coordinator, Sheri Wabanosse (who can be contacted at 705-968-0586 or through the band office) and an office at the back of the band office.” 

Advocacy group Legendary held a small, solemn ceremony to unveil M’Chigeeng’s ‘Crosses for Change’ display.

“Our group had brought our concerns to the Chief and Council and they have been very supportive of what we are doing,” said Ms. Aelick. Support has also come from the UCCM Anishinaabe Police Service, OPP Provincial liaison team, as well as elders, citizens, staff members of M’Chigeeng and for other initiatives the Legendary group has put in place including holding walks in the community. Five memorial walks have taken place thus far that have helped raise awareness of the concern about drugs in the community. 

Ms. Taibossigai said at one of the walks, “the students at Lakeview School made signs and walked with us. They were very excited to join with us. On the walks, we have had people meet us at their driveway asking what we are doing and why.”

Ms. Taibossigai said the group, which includes both female and male members,  is planning more community walks and would like to get Manitoulin Secondary School involved as well. She noted that the site of the memorial and Cross for Change site is owned by her uncle Jason Taibossigai who was very grateful in allowing the Legendary group to use the property.  As well, Billy Joe Fox voluntarily cuts the grass and maintains the property.

“This is not the M’Chigeeng community specific addiction affects every community,” said Ms. Aelick who pointed out help and support is available to anyone needing support on a 24/7 basis.