A small and sombre ceremony was held in downtown Sturgeon Falls to recognize those lost and affected by drug overdoses and install a plaque in their memory. The ceremony was held on the cold, rainy morning of October 19th in the fountain park along King Street, attended by a small crowd of people. Lynn Perreault, Program Manager of the Alliance Centre, led the event and invited several speakers to talk about drug awareness, and the effects of drugs in our communities.
The ceremony began with a land acknowledgement and a few words from Perreault, who then invited Nipissing First Nation (NFN) Elder, Evelyn McLeod, to perform a smudging ceremony before the unveiling. West Nipissing Deputy Mayor Yvon Duhaime and Councillor Lise Sénécal, NFN Chief Scott McLeod and Evelyn McLeod stood together and performed the unveiling.
The plaque, which commemorates August 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day, was not ready at the time of the actual event, and so the installation had been delayed. The unveiling ceremony for the $3,005.80 plaque was organized by the West Nipissing General Hospital Alliance Centre, the West Nipissing Community Health Centre (WNCHC), the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and the municipality. It was also sponsored by multiple community organizations and local businesses.
“The plaque is a visual reminder that will raise awareness about International Overdose Awareness Day, (…) the world’s largest campaign to end overdose and to teach the public that an overdose is preventable,” states a WNCHC release.
Once the plaque was unveiled, speakers were asked to say a few words about the impact of overdoses and drug abuse on their lives and their community. “It has no boundaries. It doesn’t stop or start at the reserve line or the town line. It’s not biased, it’s not discriminatory, it affects all of us,” said Chief McLeod. He also noted that First Nations communities struggle with addictions at a disproportionally high rate due to lasting effects of colonialism and the atrocities committed. He felt it important to honour those who have passed on due to addictions and mental health issues. “We tend, as a society, to place them in a box of their own; that they were troubled people, and they were bad people, and they did bad things. But really, they’re just good people that bad things have happened to them. We have to remember that, and we have to reduce the stigma around it,” he stated, adding that everyone is deserving of support.