Treatment and recovery are big ticket items in the fight against rampant drug abuse in northwestern Ontario.

But many First Nations are also recognizing the need for prevention — especially among youth. 

Sylvia Meshake, who lives at Long Lake 58 First Nation, said giving youth meaningful things to do in the community is important, because "there's not a whole lot for kids to do around here, so they tend to ... get themselves into a lot of trouble."

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Riley Waboose, 12, goes to Youth Nights twice a week. He also participates in the Long Lake 58 drumming group on Wednesday nights. He says the drumming and singing "connects me to ... my culture." (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Meshake is relieved that her son, Riley Waboose, can now go to a "youth night" at a local community hall twice a week.   

"First we play floor hockey, then we play … a tag kind of game," Waboose said.

Kids have no place to go

Josh Fisher grew up in Thunder Bay, but is a Long Lake 58 band member.

He started the youth activities when he returned to the community last year to work as a family support worker.

"I saw a need that these kids had no place to go, they were wandering around, walking around all the time," Fisher said.

Now 28, Fisher spent much of his life addicted to everything from alcohol to oxycontin. He is now in recovery and has been clean for over a year.

He said he shares his own experiences with the youth he works with, who are at a critical age when it comes to drug abuse.   

"You know, by the time ... you reach kids that are 13, they're already contemplating using drugs, (or are) already using drugs," he said.

"[They’ve] already been abused, have already seen abuse, already [contemplated] suicide, have already lost people. And that’s a place where the intervention stuff and prevention needs to be because you’re going to prevent those kids from dying."

Life-changing experience

At 12 years old, Waboose has already seen the turmoil caused by his two older brothers' addictions, and he said he doesn't like when his friends use drugs. He acknowledged the activities help.   

"Cause … when they're here, they can't go out and get their, their drugs," he said.

The youth program offers recreational activities, as well as a community kitchen where youth learn basic life skills and cook for one another.

Fisher said it also gives kids a place to talk about what's happening in their lives, which is an opportunity to tackle problems that can lead to drug abuse in the first place. 

"When you feel like you’re the only person in the world who’s dealing with this, to have somebody come and connect with you on a spiritual, emotional level like that, it is an amazing experience … it's life-changing."