Pikangikum’s Sheldon Keesickquayash is helping young gas sniffers overcome their addiction.
“There are more youth that sniff gas – they are little kids,” said the solvent abuse worker during the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Solvent Abuse Conference.
He said he works with more than 100 youth at the community’s solvent abuse healing camp to identify what the youth need to build a better future.
“We try to encourage them not to sniff.”
Keesickquayash said the camp offers youth a caring, sharing and learning atmosphere where they have an opportunity to talk about their lives, get plenty to eat, and are kept active in a variety of activities.
“They like activities, they like to learn,” Keesickquayash said. “We try not to trigger them. We try to help them deal with their problems.”
Keesickquayash said some of the youth begin sniffing at eight or nine years of age.
“They even have their brothers and sisters who sniff gas,” he said. “They get attracted to their brothers and sisters and that’s what triggers them. They want to try it and when they first try it, it takes off.”
Keesickquayash said the youth need all the help they can get, from Elders or anyone who will listen.
“Most of them quit, but not all of them,” Keesickquayash said about the youth in Pikangikum’s solvent abuse healing program. “Some of them want to go back to sniffing.”
The Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Solvent Abuse Conference was held June 23-24 at the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Specialized Solvent Abuse Treatment Centre in Thunder Bay. It featured presentations and discussions from experts on family violence, mental health and addictions, and traditional teachings.
Jean Lemieux, health director for the Wabun Tribal Council and a board member of the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Specialized Solvent Abuse Treatment Centre, said it was important to hold the first countrywide solvent abuse conference.
“I’m going to take back the stories that were shared by our keynote speakers – they were very touching,” Lemieux said.
“It’s important that we are able to get the word out to our frontline workers.”
Lemieux said the conference provides information not only to the participants, but also to the participants’ co-workers or clients by word of mouth.
Nora Bressette, treatment co-ordinator and assistant director with Nimkee NupiGawagan Healing Centre in Muncey, said it is important to get the word out about solvent abuse in First Nation communities.
Bressette believes youth with solvent abuse damage can recover.
She said a former Ka-Na-Chi-Hih client entered the program in a wheelchair but left walking.
“The more we learn, the more we can help our young people too. I always believe there is hope. I will never give up that belief.”
Jonathan Kaminawash, a youth from Sachigo Lake currently in treatment for solvent, alcohol and drug abuse at Ka-Na-Chi-Hih, said the treatment program is working for him.
“It’s (sniffing solvents) not really good for you. Now I know what it does to your brain with one use,” Kaminawash said.
“You need to stop.”
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