UPDATE: Fri., June 15 at 5:25 p.m.
Although moving towards a drug and alcohol free reserve has been on the books since 2013, a recent death of a 22-year-old Penticton Indian Band man prompted the reserve to make it an official ideal Friday.
Dawn Russell, communications coordinator for the PIB, told the Western News Friday, the young man fatally overdosed last week from opioid use.
Rusell was the young man’s teacher for two years and always thought he would make a great dad one day.
“I always thought, ‘oh, I’m going to hold his babies one day,” she said.
“He’s 22. He should be getting married, starting jobs, having kids, going to university. The loss of this is huge. He’s one of our community members that chops wood for our elders. We all wanted to see him grow up and see what he would do with his life. It’s a blow to the whole community.”
She thought his death was the first as a result of opioid misuse, but that drug addiction has impacted the community just as it has in all other communities across the country.
“We’ve all been affected. It’s not about whether or not someone was lost or naloxone administered to revive them. It’s impacting us. We have to go out and get naloxone training to help save our members,” she said.
In 2013, the PIB underwent a Comprehensive Community Plan. During the process every member of the band was consulted from children to seniors, Russell explained, from those discussions it became clear the overwhelming majority of the band members wanted to live in a drug and alcohol free reserve.
“What came out of that is a goal for our community to get to a place where we didn’t have drugs and alcohol in our community. That is a result of this extensive process… some of the people involved in this process were not the age of majority at the time. A number of people had been sober for years. Those voices count too. All the voices count,” she said.
“As a community we will be standing together to help each other get there.”
There are no plans to persecute people who do use alcohol and drugs, but if members know others are using substances illegally calling the RCMP might be an option, but that isn’t the preferred the method of dealing with the problem, Russell said.
“It’s about healing people not punishing people and providing supports,” she said, adding, “One is too many. There are problems in the City of Penticton. The social structure there alienates the users. We don’t want that. We just want our members to know that we care about them and we are ready to do what we can to help them. It’s a declaration that we are here for each other.”
The PIB plans to work with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and other agencies to address drug and alcohol misuse and encourage band and community members to not use.
In the wake of the loss of another band member, The Penticton Indian Band announced Friday afternoon it will be a drug and alcohol free reserve.
“To honour and respect each other we can no longer tolerate any illegal drugs being; sold or used, recreationally or habitually, within our boundaries. We will take every step necessary to protect our members. In the upcoming days weeks and months we will be bringing the families together and find ways to overcome the challenges we may face to support each other,”PIB Chief Chad Eneas stated in a press release.
In the press release it stated the community is currently grieving the loss of another member to the opioid and drug crisis.
During a recent Comprehensive Community Planning process the idea to become a dry reserve came through clearly from members.
“This is one of the priorities fully supported by the band council. Those that sell drugs to our members will be met with the full force of a community that is not willing to accept this behaviour and will use everything at its means to stop any and all drug activity in our community. The community and families have spoken loudly,” the release stated.
The PIB is working together with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and other partners to address the crisis.