I was watching the documentary: “Bobby Kennedy for President,” and in it, Bobby declared that he would run for President of the United States. One statement caught my attention: “… young Indians to commit suicide on their reservations because they lacked all hope,” it is a statement that hits close to home for many of our First Nations people.
Lacking all hope is such a terrible feeling. I have felt the wrath of racism in my own hometown of La Ronge and in the town of Prince Albert during the time of the LaChance shooting in 1991. The feeling of lost hope and shame resonates with your whole being. I was fortunate to be able to go back to my community of Hall Lake.
Lack of hope on the reserve is an unfortunate side-effect of alcohol, drugs and gambling. There are other forms of substance abuse prevalent among the youth, such as huffing, or “sniffing,” as it is more commonly known on our reserves up here in Northern Saskatchewan.
We all have our vices as human beings. There are very few people that I know of that are content with little or no way of “loosening up,” as it were. I drank alcohol many times and spend all of my money to get to the last drop of booze I could get. I have pawned off laptops, TVs and guitars just to keep the party going. I have lost things to the pawn shop because I could not afford to take them out when they were due. Sometimes I would pay a fee to keep them there for a couple of weeks more but ultimately, the stuff would end up owned by the pawnshop.
The lack of hope I felt was brought on by depression from the workplace and family matters, these are situations I would rather not reveal at this time. The drinking was a way to cloud reality so I would not have to worry about any responsibilities, including my children. However, money runs out, sleep is needed, and bills need to be paid and feed the family. The hangovers I suffered through were terrible, I would attempt to clean up the apartment and feed my hungry daughter at the same time. I shook and I sweated away the weekend, sometimes I would call in “sick” to avoid going to work smelling like alcohol.
Alcohol use was normalized when I was growing up. It was okay to bring in cases of beer and many friends with which to enjoy the (so called) good times. It was not good for me. I dreaded the late nights when I would have no choice but to stay up and listen to arguing and fighting. Sometimes, I would be woken up to do something for my father or be introduced to one of his friends from work. They would be nice enough and greet me nicely, but I do not think it’s a good way to be introduced.
Many people that do not drink or drink socially are very quick to judge people who drink too much. They do not know what people are going through and why they resort to this type of “loosening up.” I still drink from time to time but not nearly as much and away from my children, so I am far from perfect. I throw in a few bucks in the one arm bandit and I smoke cigarettes when I am having a drink (I quit smoking five times this year). Obviously, I still have work to do with myself, I am trying.
As a teacher now, I am taking a close look at myself, a more critical look at myself. If students see me walking around drunk, it will look very bad to them. To my colleagues, it will appear very unprofessional. It is better to quit drinking outright and be done with it. I do not want any lack of hope, amplified from being hungover and wondering what I had done. I have a whole school year to plan for and I need to work on what I will be teaching tomorrow.
Charlie Venne – Grade 5/6 teacher at Sally Ross School
All photographs were taken by me, using various cameras and phones over the years.
Robert Kennedy’s Indian Commitment (June 1, 2018) https://tribalcollegejournal.org/robert-kennedys-indian-commitment/
80 Days That Changed America (April 23, 2018) https://www.thenation.com/article/80-days-that-changed-america/
LaChance shooting remembered in Prince Albert (Jan 28, 2011) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/lachance-shooting-remembered-in-prince-albert-1.1089247
Sally Ross School – http://llribedu.ca/sally-ross-school/