Drug overdoses continue to ravage Alberta First Nation

“It feels like we’re living in the city with the sirens.”

Lori Eagle Plume visits the Blood Tribe Department of Health regularly for her suboxone treatment after kicking her addiction four years ago.

Her motivation? The thought of losing her children to the foster care system.

“Them almost getting taken away from me, it was hard knowing that – either you get help today or if you don’t, we’re going to go take your kids,” she said.

“I thought about my kids and I was like, No. OK, I’m going to get help, I’ll do it for them.”

Eagle Plume got help in time, but Dr. Esther Tailfeathers says parents losing their kids because of drug use is an all too common story in the community south of Calgary.

“There’s not a huge safety net for them. We’re so busy concentrating on saving the lives of people who are addicted that we’re not watching the fallout around them and the youth are absorbing a lot of the grief,” Tailfeathers said.

“We’re seeing more youth becoming addicted. We had a 13-year-old that overdosed in front of our tribal office a week ago.”

In November, the Blood Tribe was hit with 57 overdoses and four deaths. The worst month this year.

“It feels like we’re living in the city with the sirens,” said Eagle Plume.

“We never used to be like that. When you hear the sirens, you just know what it is.”

Tailfeathers says the community has taken major steps to save people from overdoses. Emergency Health Services has increased its number of ambulances and team members and added more offices to the Blood Tribe Police Service.

But while some lives are being saved, Tailfeathers said families have lost their housing to addictions, children are becoming homeless, they’re hungry because they aren’t getting the nutrition they need and many are not attending school.

And, Tailfeathers said, 39 per cent of babies from the Blood Tribe are born into neonatal abstinence.

“Usually those babies are not released to the mother, they’re released to either to a family member who becomes a temporary guardian or they’re released into the foster care system. That’s one part of our populations that we haven’t been paying attention to and we really do need to be concerned,” she said.

Overdoses have impacted the economy of the Blood Tribe, as well.

“It would be so nice if we could be spending all that money that we’re spending on saving lives, if we could spend that on the other end and make this a really nice place to be and actually dealing with the trauma issues that we need to deal with, but we’re not getting there,” Tailfeathers said.

As Eagle Plume makes another visit to the department of health, she encouraged others struggling with addictions to seek help.

“Coming off drugs was one of the best things because I got my family back. I got my home. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said.


Video Journalist / Calgary

Tamara is Métis from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She received a diploma in interactive media arts at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon and has worked as a videographer for CBC in Winnipeg and Iqaluit. Tamara was hired by APTN in 2016 as a camera/editor and is now a video journalist in our Calgary bureau.