Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pair credit aboriginal culture for fresh start

Study backs what two native Winnipeggers experienced

  • Print

A pair of Winnipeggers say they're living proof of what recent Canadian studies show: Urban aboriginal adults who embrace traditional culture are less likely to experience prescription- and illicit-drug problems.

John Oige, 31, and Dawn Simmons, 29, both of Winnipeg, struggled for years with crack-cocaine addiction.

Oige's habit had him in and out of jail for a decade. It was a cycle of break-and-enters, alcohol abuse and physical altercations for the northern Manitoba Cree man, adopted as a four-year old in the big city. "I'd pretty much ruined my life," Oige said.

Simmons, meanwhile, grew up being taunted as aboriginal but had no links to her native culture in the Ukrainian Catholic home where she grew up. For her, crack cocaine was the ultimate anesthetic.

"I was very shy and withdrawn, and it led to drugs. I understand it was a way for me to deal with my life, because I didn't have the tools to cope," she said.

Now, both are drug-free -- Simmons since 2009 and Oige since his last jail term ended in November 2012.

She has a full-time job and he's working toward one. Both credit discovering their ancestors' culture through urban aboriginal centres such as Thunderbird House in Winnipeg for their sobriety and hope for a brighter future.

"Before, life wasn't worth living. It's not like that anymore," Oige said. "I look forward to every day, helping people... At Thunderbird House, I'm attending sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies, smudging, feasts -- whatever they have."

Some researchers in Canada are confirming the positive experiences of people such as Oige and Simmons.

In a recent study, University of Lethbridge researcher Cheryl Currie concluded urban aboriginal people who embrace traditional culture are less likely to have drug problems.

"Those participating in aboriginal culture were those who were not using drugs and did not have drug problems," Currie said. "The culture was serving as a protective factor against using and abusing drugs for urban-based aboriginal adults."

The year-long study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, is based on surveys with about 400 aboriginal people in Edmonton.

The study is small but the findings were definitive, Currie said.

When asked what it meant to practise aboriginal culture in a city, those in the study described participating in aboriginal ceremonies and cultural events, valuing spirituality and family, and respecting oneself, others and the Earth.

Winnipeg university educators who are aboriginal and embrace their cultures said the findings might be new to science, but not to them.

"The most important part of this study is... it shows the real strength of aboriginal people and that we have these ceremonies and practices that are really protective for our health," said Marcia Anderson-Decoteau, the head of the University of Manitoba's medical faculty section on First Nations, M©tis and Inuit health.

Added Wab Kinew, the University of Winnipeg's director of indigenous inclusion: "It is good to see evidence to back up what the indigenous community has known all along."

The other part of the equation is to recognize that drug and alcohol abuse are part of a process that undermined indigenous people.

"The reconnection of those ties with community, language and a positive self-image -- all things facilitated by traditional indigenous ceremonial practices -- are enough for anyone to live a healthy life," said Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, an associate professor at the U of M.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Inside peek at Real Pirates, new Manitoba Museum exhibit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you still on the Bombers' and Jets' bandwagons?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google