Manitoba reserve snuffs out gas-sniffing

The Pauingassi First Nation in northeastern Manitoba says it has managed to beat an epidemic of gas sniffing that was once thought to affect half of the reserve's children.

ThePauingassi First Nation in northeastern Manitobasays it has managed to beat an epidemic ofgas sniffing that was once thought to affect half of the reserve's children.

The reserve, located about 280 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has spent thousands of dollars over the past year to send young people out of the community for treatment. It also introduced recreational and traditional-culture programs to keep youngsters away from sniffing.

Band leaders said the efforts have paid off.

"I'm glad that I can say that there is, you know, no solvent abuse in the community, knock on wood," said Eric Kennedy, thesupervisor of child and family services at Pauingassi.

He said it took an enormous effort from the band leaders and the child and family services agency to clean up the gas sniffing.

The first challenge was convincingpeople to take the problem seriously, Kennedy said, by trying to persuade them that "it's not right just to walk by their children or their grandchildren or their nephews or their nieces when they're using solvents."

In past years, social workers and health-care workers who worked on thereserve had estimated that half of its children, and many young adults, were addicted to sniffing gas.

"They would take over an abandoned house and basically live in there. They would steal gas, just carry it in small bags or garbage bags, hang it from the wall," said RCMP Sgt. Jack Raffle.

"They wouldn't eat and once they were high, they'd become violent, involved in knife attacks, with baseball bats, aggravated assaults and became a real menace to the community."

Raffle said thelevel of violence on the reserve of 500 people has dropped as the band targeted gas sniffing.

Kennedy warned that peopleshouldn't let down their guards yet, because the changes are stillrecent and fragile.