Grandparents form group to fight drug, alcohol abuse on Sask. First Nation

Every Wednesday night, a group of aboriginal grandparents meet to plan their next step in the fight against the drug and alcohol problem on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Kokums and mosoms plan interventions and counseling on Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation

Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation is struggling with drugs and alcohol. (CBC)

Every Wednesday night, a group of grandparents meet to plan their next step in the fight against the drug and alcohol problem on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Some nights there are 20 people in the group–other nights there are as many as 40. They call themselves "Kohkom and Mosom Warriors Against Drugs and Alcohol." The names are the Cree words for "grandmother" and "grandfather."

"There isn't one house on this reserve that isn't touched by drugs and alcohol," said Irene Mitsuing, a grandmother and one of the members.

Band council is aware of the problem too. A notice posted in the community's grocery store warns people that anyone caught dealing drugs could be expelled from the reserve.

Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation is about 330 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon and about 60 kilometres west of Meadow Lake. 

School struggles to cope

Community leaders say the problem is deeply rooted.

"A lot of kids come to school with not enough sleep because there's parties at their house," said Tommy Littlespruce, a member of the group and a community elder. "And a lot of the young ones are starting to do drugs."

Tommy Littlespruce is a member of the group and an elder at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan school. (CBC)
Littlespruce said the drugs and alcohol have made their way into the reserve's school. The kokums and mosoms have been brought in to help the school's crisis team, and speak with students.

He said it hit home over Christmas when students decorated a tree with their holiday wishes. Littlespruce said kids were asking for more than just iPads or cellphones.

"They were wishing for stuff like, 'My Christmas wish is that my mom and dad would quit the drugs and alcohol so we can be a happy family again,'" Littlespruce recalled.

 "Another one: 'I wish my mom would laugh again instead of crying all the time because of drugs.'"

Kokums and mosoms expanding the fight

Beyond the school visits, the grandparents' group is also planning interventions with addicts, grief counseling and spiritual ceremonies.

Irene Augustine is a grandmother and member of the group. (CBC)
"(The group) gives everybody hope. It's so needed," said member Irene Augustine. "People need to have hope. They need to know they're not the only ones in this fight."

"I just think that it's up to all of us," she said. "Each and every one of us has to get involved. We can't just sit on the sidelines and let certain people do it."

Making a difference

One of the founders of the grandparents' group, Roy Mitsuing, went through his own battle with addiction. He's been sober for 30 years now.

Roy Mitsuing is the founder of the group. (CBC)
"It's really hard giving up, when you're scared, and sick and depressed," Mitsuing said. But he also said he's seeing young people coming to ceremonial smudges he's leading on the reserve, so there's hope.

"We're out here, we're a group of people that care. You know us. Phone us, come to our meetings, come and join us," he said.