Wiikwemkoong drug awareness caravan carries on

Community members from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories took to the streets for a caravan to raise awareness of addictions. The annual procession through the community is usually done on foot and joined by several community partners, but this year was a more low-key event. photo by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG – A bitter cold wind swept a sprinkling of snowflakes across the band office parking lot of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories as a hardy group of determined volunteers struggled to affix posters and signs to their vehicles. The annual National Addictions Awareness Week “walk” took place last month under strict COVID-19 protocols.

“Normally, we would have many of our partner organizations here with us and we would be walking,” said Terry Beaudry, one of the organizers of this year’s event. “This year we decided to keep it more low key, but we wanted to make sure we still had one to bring awareness so we decided to use our vehicles.”

“It’s time to stop the silence,” agreed Karen Shawanda, who has taken part in the walk since helping to start the event several years ago. The drug awareness walk centres on the dual purposes of bringing awareness to the nation’s other epidemic, addictions, while also delivering a message of hope and support for those attempting to escape the shackles of a disease that will have claimed over 2,200 lives before this year is out in opioid-related fatalities alone—a 50 percent increase since 2019.

“We have to do something,” said Ms. Beaudry. “We can’t just stand by and let the lives of so many people slip away.”

The impact on families and friends reverberates throughout small rural communities that have been hard-hit by overdose deaths, a phenomenon that recent events in a number of Island communities have clearly proven no community is immune.

“This is something that affects everybody,” said Ms. Beaudry. “We have to stand together to stop this.”

National Addictions Awareness Week runs from November 22 to 28. The mother of a young man who died of an overdose in Sudbury has spearheaded an effort to bring public attention to the crisis by providing a graphic symbol of the loss—erecting white crosses at the corner of Brady and Paris Streets for each death in the community. The number of crosses has quickly grown to number more than 50.