Residents of Kehewin Cree Nation walked along Highway 41 in a stance against drug and substance abuse Thursday morning after a young member of the Nation lost her life.
Nikki Gadwa was 31 years old when she passed away due to her addiction to methamphetamines, overdosing on October 4th and leaving behind her daughter, parents, and the rest of her large family.
Cindy Tootoosis, Gadwa’s aunt, organized the walk after her niece was laid to rest with assistance from other women in the community who were also relatives of Gadwa.
“It’s wasn’t the first to happen within our Nation, there’s been a few in the last little while,” said Tootoosis. “A bunch of us ladies came together to raise awareness of the issue, with the hope that other Nations could join us.”
After the walk had concluded participants gathered outside the Nation’s administration building where speeches were held from Gadwa’s relatives, council members and Elders, and members of the community sharing their own struggles with addiction.
“We need to work together, because we are losing our young people,” said Elder Eliza Brertton, also Gadwa’s grandmother. “We’re not only going through COVID, we’re going through the battle of losing our loved ones to drugs, and we need to reach out and find out what it is that gets them in these situations, and not give up on them.”
Since Gadwa’s passing Kehewin’s leadership has been looking into ways drug-related deaths could be prevented, and have implemented a “blue light campaign” which would provide homes with a blue porch light to identify drug-free houses that struggling addicts could come to for support.
“We want to send the message that you’re not alone,” said band councillor Trevor John. “Drugs and opioid addiction affects us all — we are all one tribe, and by creating this awareness we remember those that left us too early.
“There’s too many young lives at stake here.”
John also revealed that naloxone kits would be available for free for any home within the Nation, which he and the rest of the Council hopes will alleviate the Nation’s dependence on Bonnyville and Elk Point responders, which can take 30 minutes to reach a caller, by which time it may be too late.
Tootoosis revealed that the Nation also plans to bring the plight of drug abuse to the provincial government’s attention with another walk, albeit one much longer with plans to walk all the way to the legislative building in Edmonton.
Details such as the starting location and date for the walk are still being worked out, but what’s known now is that the Nation plans to partner with other First Nation’s communities such as those in Cold Lake and Frog Lake to walk in sections towards Edmonton, with each group walking a portion of the way.
“We do need to do more. We do need to step up and to support one another,” said Gadwa’s mother Kathleen. “We need what we are doing today to be ongoing.”