By Jessica Lee
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A set of anti-drug bylaws targeting drug dealers, trespassers and others not welcome on Iyarhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation lands have yet to pass, over a year after bylaw discussions were first announced.
In October 2021, Nakoda Emergency Management and Services posted a notice to its Facebook page acknowledging an increase in opioid drug use in the community resulting in loss of lives, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and informing community members of new anti-drug measures being crafted in response.
“At the direction of the Chiefs and Tribal Council, administration has initiated many responses to the situation affecting our community,” reads the notice. “Working closely with RCMP, Stoney Health Services and our legal team, we have started creating new bylaws that will strengthen our ability to protect the Nation by dealing with our drug dealers, trespassers and others who should not be here in our Nation.
“A new task force including members of the community has been formed. The task force will further develop and implement programs to help our people with treatments and resources.”
Specific information about the bylaws and task force are not known, including when the bylaws might be enacted. The Outlook reached out to Stoney Nakoda Nation but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Based on the Alberta opioid response surveillance report published in December 2021, First Nations people in Alberta have disproportionately higher opioid deaths than their non-First Nation counterparts. In 2020, approximately six per cent of Alberta’s population was First Nations, yet they made up for 22 per cent of opioid poisoning deaths in the first six months of the year, an increase from 14 per cent in 2016.
There were 1,817 drug poisoning deaths in Alberta in 2021, including from opioids and other substances. The number of opioid-related deaths peaked in November at 174.
In acknowledgement of the drug crisis and number of deaths in First Nations communities, many First Nations across Alberta and Canada have taken matters into their own hands, using bylaw enactment powers enabled by Section 81 of the Indian Act to develop anti-drug and alcohol bylaws on reserves to cut off local supply.
Siksika Nation Coun. Ruben (Buck) Breaker was chair of the Nation’s crime prevention task force during his last term when chief and council passed a trespass bylaw and banishment bylaw to evict and keep drug dealers off the reserve.
“We were frustrated with the process of reporting a drug dealer because RCMP needed very significant evidence that drug dealing was going on in a house for them to enter, as in seeing the drugs for yourself basically,” said Breaker. “Even neighbours who were Nation members and knew this was going on, couldn’t give that kind of evidence.”
In 2018, Breaker began conversations with local RCMP about other avenues of reporting suspicious activity the Nation could take, such as noting the number of visitors to a suspected drug-trafficking house and length of visits.
“That was enough for Nation members to report to RCMP, so that was a process we took and we told people to call either Crime Stoppers or a non-emergency line to remain anonymous,” said Breaker. “Most people didn’t want to give their names for safety reasons.”
But this process, too, proved to be insufficient in fully addressing the issue.
“The central dispatch for RCMP is in Red Deer so there were a lot of loops and holes in trying to get someone to investigate in a timely manner,” he said.
Instead, the Nation created a designated phone number allowing, Nation members to leave anonymous messages reporting suspicious activity. Callers would then be called back for a statement which could help constitute a search warrant for RCMP.
“We were able to do some significant drug busts in that process,” said Breaker.
“But in a lot of these cases, drug dealers who could afford to get a lawyer, would, and they would then find a loophole putting them right back where they were.”
At that time, there were some examples of other First Nations enacting bylaws to banish drug dealers from reserves, primarily non-Nation members who were caught trafficking.
Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba passed a bylaw in 2004 to banish people charged with trafficking from the reserve and further enforce stricter curfews at night.
Siksika Nation began exploring the idea of sanctioning similar measures and engaged with community members to ask whether the Nation should ban drug dealers from the reserve, including Nation members.
“About 80 to 90 per cent of those we surveyed said `yes, we should banish them,”’ said Breaker. “So, we did what the people wanted.”
Breaker said the bylaw was authored and passed by chief and council within short time. In one instance that followed, three non-Nation members were banished by chief and council following an outcry by community members.
In Siksika’s bylaw, non-Nation members caught trafficking drugs are banished and never welcome to return to the reserve, to live or visit. If they are caught on Siksika lands, they are subject to prosecution, including a hefty fine for trespassing.
There are stipulations for Nation members, however, which allow for the opportunity to return to the community after one year of banishment.
Several First Nations, including O’Chiese, Sunchild, Samson Cree and Enoch Cree in Alberta, have enacted similar bylaws.
Summer Twoyoungmen, of Iyarhe Nakoda Nation, was the founder of a group called Wacaga okona’giciya’bi (Battle Against Drugs in Stoney Nakoda), a name which means a shield providing both spiritual and physical protection.
Twoyoungmen, who sadly passed away in November 2022, started a petition in 2020 calling upon Iyarhe Nakoda First Nation chiefs and council. comprised of the Chiniki, Bearspaw and Goodstoney First Nations, to create a bylaw banishing drug dealers, both non-Nation and Nation members.
The petition has more than 400 signatures to date and Twoyoungmen told the Outlook in previous interviews that she tried to present it to Stoney Tribal Council but was not given the opportunity.
She recalled seeing the notice about bylaws and a task force on social media sometime later.
In an interview with the Outlook on Nov. 3, Twoyoungmen said, for her, it raised alarm bells that there had been little to no community involvement within Iyarhe Nakoda First Nation in deciding whether to enact anti-drug bylaws, what they would entail or when they might pass.
“We should all be aware of what they’re planning, so that we know that it’s going to benefit the community,” she said. “This is a situation that affects us all and we should all have some say.
“It doesn’t make sense to make these bylaws without community involvement. They should be speaking to the people who are most affected by this.”
Twoyoungmen, who lost her mother, sister, niece and countless friends to drug-related deaths, said she believed the community can’t afford to wait any longer to take action. Too many lives have already been lost.
“It’s like hot potato, the community wants to talk about it but they also don’t because it’s such a touchy subject. It makes everybody uncomfortable,” she said.
Stoney Health Services, the Nation’s health authority, recently constructed a residential adult wellness centre specializing in addiction treatment in Mini Thni, but Twoyoungmen said she felt it would do little to help recovering addicts returning to a community that continues to provide access to the substances that put them there.
“They need to get rid of the dealers, they need to do something about the dealers in order for these programs to work,” she said.
“We need to call out the source of the problem first because I haven’t seen any proof that these programs are working.”
According to Breaker, the bylaws they enacted in Siksika also aren’t perfect, at least not on their own.
Their trespassing and banishment bylaws are not enforceable by RCMP, he said, because there is no set court process to deal with them.
“What ends up happening is we get bounced around from provincial court to federal court and back because we can’t get a court process in place to handle the charges,” he said.
Now the Nation plans to enforce its own bylaws, taking a major step toward self-governance by creating its own prosecution office.
The Siksika Nation announced in October 2022 it had hired the Calgary-based law firm Mincher Koeman LLP to establish its prosecution office, which will enforce Siksika bylaws with the goal of eventually hearing matters at the provincial court located on reserve.
“We’re fortunate enough to have our own courthouse on the Nation,” said Breaker. “I think for a lot of other First Nations who take this path, it’s going to be a matter of working with the nearest municipality and The Ministry of Justice of Alberta to work on an agreement where they have maybe one day a month to prosecute their bylaws.”
Siksika Nation will be using funds from a $1.3 billion land settlement awarded to them by the federal government in June in order to establish their prosecution office, in addition to hiring more peace officers and reintroducing its own police force.
While steps toward self-governance and enforcement are helping Siksika Nation, Breaker said it’s equally important to provide services that allow for mental, spiritual and physical healing. That is something they are currently working toward in their community.
In August 2022, Stoney Health Services opened an outdoor wellness centre, adjacent to the residential treatment centre and Wesley Elder’s Lodge, to help community members of all ages reconnect with their culture and traditional ways. The centre offers the use of a teepee and fire ring, with berry-picking in the summer. A sweat lodge will also be constructed there, and a medicine wheel made up of rocks painted white, yellow, red and black decorates the hillside overlooking Mini Thni.
“It’s not only the crime aspect of it that we need to look at.
We’ve also got to focus on the healing of our people,” said Breaker. “People are running to these drugs to numb the pain of past traumas and we need to be able to offer the services to deal with that, too.”
Jessica Lee is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the ROCKY MOUNTAIN OUTLOOK. The LJI program is federally funded.