Article by Laura Barrios, Anishinabek News
The Key Health and Social Factors for a Cannabis Strategy Forum hosted by the Anishinabek Nation Health Department in early March in Toronto brought together Anishinabek front-line workers to discuss the current challenges that the legalization of cannabis has created for their community. Participants also had the opportunity to identify gaps in services and resources to support the overall health and well-being of their citizens and provide recommendations throughout the forum that will contribute to the development of an Anishinabek Nation Cannabis Health Strategy.
Participants learned about cannabis from a multi-perspective approach from Sacred Indigenous Knowledge scholar (PhD equivalent in western-based education) and Executive Director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, Carol Hopkins. She offered information about analytical tools such as frameworks developed by the Thunderbird Foundation that can be applied by Indigenous communities across Canada to address cannabis and opioid matters.
“We live in a culture of silence—we don’t know how to handle things when there are differences—differences are necessary,” she explained. “In the Train the Trainer program, there’s a section of having community conversations and how to listen in a neutral way.”
Anishinabek Nation technicians provided front-line workers with an update on the work that the Anishinabek Nation is currently undertaking to support the member First Nations with respect to cannabis.
“This forum is just a stepping stone; there is certainly a need for further engagement with our First Nations. We will work to make sure we get representation from all of our regions and that they are reflected in the strategy,” said Sarah Gammon, Policy Analyst for the Policy and Communications Department at the Anishinabek Nation. “We recognize that our communities have varying positions and needs when it comes to cannabis. We have established an internal working group comprised of representation from every department within our organization to work collectively to support our communities.”
A discussion panel allowed participants to learn about the work underway in various Anishinabek First Nations to support the health and well-being of their citizens. Panellists also shared their personal perspectives of the challenges currently being faced surrounding cannabis. Panel members consisted of Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, Mississauga #8 First Nation Chief Reg Niganobe, Anishinabek Nation Getzidjig Advisory Council member Leroy Dolson, Anishinabek Nation youth Pierre Bourassa, and Carol Jones of Magnetawan First Nation.
Chief McLeod, whose community has the first legal First Nation dispensary now in operation, offered insight into how the development of the laws surrounding cannabis was driven by the community, not just Chief and Council, and how they exceeded the provincial standard.
“Before we went off on the laws, we had to go to our community and ask them if we should even entertain cannabis,” he recounted. “Even First Nation citizens that didn’t agree with cannabis were able to realize that it’s here, and if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right—let’s do it responsibly…One of the things that guided us in this process is we wanted to meet or exceed laws that were out there on cannabis and cultivation. We looked at the provincial laws and used that as more or less a starting point.”
While Chief and Council of Mississauga #8 First Nation conducted extensive community consultation much like Nipissing First Nation, they have collectively, as a community, decided to adhere to the provincial process.