First Nations group walks hundreds of kilometres to raise awareness about meth

A small group has walked hundreds of kilometres from northern Manitoba to Winnipeg to raise awareness about meth and the impact it's having on their communities.

'When I was on it, I didn't care about anything or anybody,' walker from St. Theresa Point says

First Nations group walks hundreds of kilometres to raise awareness about meth

5 years ago
Duration 2:08
'It was a long walk' says leader Maureen Wood

Marchers from the Island Lake First Nations arrived on weary legs at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Tuesday, after walking hundreds of kilometres to bring attention to the crisis of meth addiction in their communities.

The march, which started as a few people walking from St. Theresa Point First Nation, slowly gathered people, growing to several dozen by the time the group reached the steps of the building on Broadway.

The marchers were led by Maureen Wood, who said her two sisters and niece have all struggled with meth. She said they first started using the drug when they were in Winnipeg last summer, after three Island Lake reserves were evacuated due to wildfires.

"One of my sisters, she experimented with the drugs. We reported her missing. She was missing about, like, three weeks, and she was on [meth] and she had no idea that she was reported, or in fact that she was, missing," Wood said.

Wood's niece, who she refers to as her daughter, also tried meth while in Winnipeg and then ran away. Wood eventually found her and brought her home. She joined Wood when she set out from St. Theresa Point, which is about 460 kilometres in a direct line north of Winnipeg. 

"I'm really, really proud of her and I'm really happy," Wood said. "Words can't explain."

Maureen Wood, right, stands with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North. Wood marched hundreds of kilometres from St. Theresa Point First Nation to Winnipeg to call attention to the crisis of meth addiction in her community. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The marchers want the province to take action to help people get off meth and to stop the flow of drugs into the Island Lake communities.

They're calling for the province and the federal government to set up meth treatment centres in their communities. They'd also like to see sniffer dogs at local airports that don't have regular security to stop meth from getting into the remote locations.

"I hope that we get help — like real, actual help — instead of waiting months and months for a person to be accepted into a treatment centre," Wood said.

"On our reserve, there's nothing to do for the youth, nothing at all. That's why they turn to alcohol and drugs."

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, as well as members from both the provincial NDP and Liberals, met briefly with the group Tuesday afternoon.

Wood said she considered giving up while she was walking — a trek that ended up covering nearly 1,100 kilometres over ice roads and other routes — but she remained motivated thanks to messages of support and prayers sent to her from people around the world.

'It's destroying lives'

Several people people in the group have first-hand experience with crystal meth and its effects on communities.

Ursula Mason, who was a meth user, was among those who walked hundreds of kilometres to raise awareness about the drug.

"We're trying to get that out of our communities. It's destroying lives. It's destroying friendships, relationships and families and it's just destroying everything," Mason said.

Ursula Mason used to use meth. Now she's raising awareness about the drug and is part of a group that's walking from northern Manitoba to Winnipeg and then Ottawa. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Mason said she used meth for 17 months.

She was able to get clean the hard way — going cold turkey — and says religion is what helped her get clean.

"I thought I could never stop," she said, while admitting she endangered the lives of her kids.

"When I was on it, I didn't care about anything or anybody."

A group of marchers hold hands in a circle outside the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Tuesday. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Liberal MLA calls for action

During question period last week, ​Manitoba Liberal MLA Judy Klassen echoed the group's call for sniffer dogs at airports to screen flights into the communities

At the time, Klassen said many from Manitoba's Island Lake communities, including St. Theresa Point, became hooked on meth in Winnipeg when wildfires forced them to evacuate to the city last summer.

Around 6,300 people were flown to Winnipeg and Brandon from the Island Lake First Nations of Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill after wildfires broke out in the summer of 2017.

People at the march hold up a sign in support of Wasagamack First Nation, located about 470 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

With files from Travis Golby