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Cree community tackles bootlegging and drug dealing

More than 200 people attended a community meeting in Chisasibi to discuss the illegal sale of drugs and alcohol and the resulting social issues, as the community deals with the suicides of three youth since January.

In the wake of recent youth suicides, more than 200 attend community meeting on social issues

Hundreds of Chisasibi residents meet to discuss social issues caused by the illegal sale of drugs and alcohol. (submitted by Warren Duff)

The Quebec Cree community of Chisasibi is challenging citizens to put bootleggers and drug dealers out of business and is launching a public consultation to address the social issues they cause.

In the wake of three youth suicides since January, more than 200 people attended a community meeting last week.

In an open letter released in the lead up to last week's community meeting, chief and council urged Chisasibi residents to stop buying drugs or alcohol illegally, adding it has a direct role in many of the social concerns that have "plagued" the community.

The open letter also laid out ideas up for discussion, including evicting bootleggers and drug dealers from public housing, allowing local stores to sell alcohol and beer, facilitating family intervention therapy and emphasizing elder teachings, among others.

"We all have a part in it to make that difference," said Daisy House, Chisasibi deputy chief. "If we work collaboratively, then something good came up can come out of it."

Daisy House is the deputy chief of the Cree community of Chisasibi. (Susan Bell/CBC)

The community of more than 5,000 in the James Bay region of Quebec has been shaken by the suicides of three youth in their early twenties, according to Roxanne Pelchat, a community worker for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

Earlier this year, she reached out to chief and council saying she and her colleagues were overwhelmed with the distress they were seeing expressed by youth on social media and elsewhere. 

She says drugs and alcohol play an important role to play in the struggles, as do a lack of communication skills between parents and children. 

While encouraged by last week's community meeting, she would like to have seen more youth present.

"We only counted six youth," said Pelchat, adding the community needs to organize family sharing circles. 

Roxanne Pelchat is a community worker for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services. Earlier this year, she reached out to chief and council saying she and her colleagues are overwhelmed by distress they were seeing expressed by youth on social media and elsewhere. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Irene Rupert works as a planning, programming and research officer for Maanuuhiikuu (Mental Health) in Chisasibi. She would like to see a community protocol to help citizens better recognize and know what to do when someone is in crisis or is at risk of suicide. 

"A lot of these youth seem to be using whatever substances that are available out there," she said. "Some [are] just staying home with their video games and there's nobody there to ask them how they're doing."

Deputy chief Daisy House agrees and says her community needs to get back in touch with Cree traditions. 

"We're losing our values of how things were long ago," She said. "[In the past] we were able to talk to one another and share our thoughts, feelings and tackle anything that came to us." 

She says council is compiling ideas and priorities identified at last week's meeting and social issues will be added to the agenda of every council meeting to keep the community informed about the progress. The community is also looking into extending a summer youth outreach program to the winter months. 

The open letter also issued a challenge to the bootleggers and drug dealers themselves. 

"Can you not find another way to make money without contributing to the destruction of young lives and the health of our people?" it asked.


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