Addiction Crisis in Fort McPherson Rooted in Housing, Colonization, and Drug Trafficking Influence

In Fort McPherson, Yukon Territory, residents grapple with a drug addiction crisis intertwined with housing issues and generational lifestyle changes stemming from colonization. The community of 750 people, situated above the Arctic Circle along the Peel River, is facing significant challenges in supporting the mental health of its residents. Last November, the community endured a tragic month where five residents lost their lives to drug overdoses, highlighting the depth of the crisis.

Residents attribute the addiction problem to larger systemic issues plaguing their community. Decades of lifestyle changes, a surge in illicit drugs and alcohol, and the brazen activities of drug dealers have all contributed to the current situation. Ninety-year-old Robert Alexie Sr. reminisces about simpler times and points to the negative impact of residents moving into government public housing, abandoning their traditional log homes and way of life in the bush.

Trina Nerysoo, from Dinjii Zhuh Solutions, a local enterprise working to enhance housing security, explains that residents now heavily rely on public housing due to the lack of viable alternatives in the community. However, residents on income support and public housing face limitations in employment opportunities due to territorial government policies, creating a cycle that inadvertently encourages alternative forms of income like drug dealing and bootlegging.

The drug crisis has escalated to the point where crack cocaine has become a recreational drug in Fort McPherson, raising concerns among residents about the origins of the money fueling this addiction. Stories of individuals making substantial amounts of money over short periods through drug-related activities highlight the allure of these illicit activities in the face of limited employment options available to residents.

The roots of the community’s challenges today, including addiction, wealth disparity, and mental health struggles, trace back to colonialism. The ongoing cycle of intergenerational trauma stemming from the legacy of residential schools continues to impact residents, with many grappling with feelings of shame, loss of identity, and a disconnection from the land. Agnes Francis, a healthy families coordinator in Fort McPherson, emphasizes the importance of addressing these historical traumas to move towards healing and wholeness.

The impact of trauma drives anxiety, a prevalent condition seen by community nurse Dave Ford, highlighting the need for holistic approaches to mental health in Fort McPherson. Mayor Rebecca Blake acknowledges the role of alcohol as a coping mechanism for many residents, reflecting deeper societal issues that need to be addressed collectively. Despite efforts by law enforcement, some residents express frustration with the limited capacity to address drug trafficking effectively in the community, calling for more robust strategies to combat the issue.

Tensions in the community have led to instances of vigilante action against drug dealers, highlighting the sense of powerlessness felt by residents in addressing the root causes of the drug crisis. While calls for community-led initiatives and traditional governance structures to take the reins in addressing the crisis resonate among some residents, challenges persist in navigating government bureaucracy and funding criteria.

The grief and trauma stemming from the loss of lives to drug overdoses last November have deeply impacted the community, prompting calls for a focus on addressing the social determinants of health and creating avenues for healing and wellness. Community-led mental health supports and initiatives aimed at promoting cultural teachings, on-the-land programming, and addiction treatment underscore the resilience and determination of residents to combat the drug crisis and build a healthier future for Fort McPherson.

As the community grapples with the aftermath of last year’s tragedies, a renewed focus on supporting youth, preserving traditional teachings, and fostering community resilience emerges as crucial elements in the journey towards healing and recovery. The experiences of residents like Gladys Alexie, a dedicated educator at Chief Julius School, highlight the importance of community cohesion, support, and cultural teachings in navigating grief and loss in times of crisis.