Drug Addiction Crisis Rooted in Housing Issues and Colonialization in Fort McPherson: Residents Speak Out Against Drug Dealers

Fort McPherson, a remote hamlet located above the Arctic Circle along the Peel River, is grappling with a drug addiction crisis that residents attribute to housing issues, lifestyle changes rooted in colonization, and the bold activities of drug dealers. The mental health of the 750 residents has been a major concern, especially after a tragic month last November when five individuals lost their lives to overdoses.

Residents of Fort McPherson believe that addiction is just one symptom of larger systemic issues facing their community. They feel overwhelmed by the influx of illicit drugs and alcohol, a stark contrast to the simpler times remembered by 90-year-old resident Robert Alexie Sr, who laments the impact of large shifts in lifestyle caused by moving into government public housing.

Trina Nerysoo, an advocate for housing security in Fort McPherson, acknowledges the lack of viable alternatives in the community, forcing residents to rely on public housing. However, residents on income support find themselves limited in their employment options due to territorial government policies, creating a cycle that makes drug dealing and bootlegging more appealing as unreported income does not affect rent or income support.

The impact of drugs in Fort McPherson is pervasive, with crack cocaine becoming a recreational drug and drug dealing becoming a lucrative opportunity. This has led to severe financial strains on families, with even Elders’ pensions being drained to support their loved ones. The root causes of these challenges are often traced back to colonial history and the ongoing cycle of intergenerational trauma from residential schools.

Community leaders in Fort McPherson have struggled to address the drug crisis, with tensions escalating to the point where residents took matters into their own hands last summer to drive out drug dealers. However, the RCMP cautioned against vigilante actions, highlighting the complex challenges of enforcing law and order in small communities like Fort McPherson.

Despite the efforts of residents and community organizations, the drug problem persists, and many feel frustrated with the limited capacity of law enforcement and government agencies to address the crisis effectively. There are calls for more community-led initiatives, on-the-land programming, and support for local governance to tackle the root causes of addiction and mental health struggles in Fort McPherson.

The recent losses in Fort McPherson due to drug overdoses have deeply impacted the community, emphasizing the need for social support systems, mental health services, and cultural education to address grief and trauma. Residents like Gladys Alexie emphasize the importance of community solidarity, education, and access to the land as essential components of healing and resilience in the face of addiction and mental health challenges plaguing the community.