Once again, the message is loud and clear: drugs and alcohol are unwelcome on the Skwah First Nation.
Following on the heels of last year’s successful Walk For Peace, dozens of Skwah members gathered last Friday for dinner and to craft two dozen signs touting a healthy lifestyle.
The colourful signs, with slogans like “Give Hugs, Not Drugs” and “Evict Drugs,” now decorate power poles around the reserve.
It’s the latest in ongoing attempts by Skwah leaders and community members to up the pressure on their fellow residents.
“We have to straighten out our community and teach kids that that’s not the life they should have,” Skwah chief Robert Combes said. “It’s all about the kids. We don’t want them to fall under the things we had to put up with, like alcoholism.”
Housing manager Lory Oberst added: “It’s fabulous because it sends a message to everyone that this is what the majority wants.”
In addition to painting signs, children, staffers and parents from the reserve’s Chilliwack Landing Preschool walked the community and gathered outside of local drug houses to send a message both to the occupants and to the young children.
“We went around the whole reserve with a whole bunch of drumming and singing and stopped in front of houses where, well, we know that’s not a good place,” said Bernadette Williams, whose son attends the preschool.
Skwah residents have been battling the demons of addiction for years. Even so, Williams, who lived on the reserve until she was seven years old, says the community seems less safe than it once did.
“The reserve has definitely changed from when I was a kid,” she said. “When I was a kid, kids were out almost at night time all packed together and it was safe, but when I moved back here it was, like, kids have to be in way before dark. It’s definitely changed around here.”
Hence the signs.
“It’s something different for us to try because we’re tired of this in our community,” Skwah councillor Dean Williams said. “It’s been a long battle, a long fight.”
Combes said it’s important for the community at large to see the Skwah trying to spearhead change from within.
“We want it to be seen that we’re trying to change,” Combes said. “There’s a lot of negative thoughts about how reserves are and how natives are, so we want everyone to see that we’re trying to change.”
Many members have forsaken alcohol, he said, and the occupants of one known drug house have been evicted. Another known house is on the band council’s radar, he said, but it’s difficult to give the occupants the boot without criminal charges having been laid.
Supporting band in their fight
Support came both from residents and local businesses: Pioneer Building Supplies donated the wood, while Home Hardware and Home Depot supplied paint and brushes, and Grand Pappy’s Home Furniture provided a door prize.
- with files from Cornelia Naylor