Drug Epidemic Plagues Fort McPherson: Community Struggles with Addiction Crisis and Housing Issues

FORT MCPHERSON, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES – In Fort McPherson, a remote hamlet located above the Arctic Circle along the Peel River, residents are grappling with a drug addiction crisis fueled by housing issues, lifestyle changes, and drug dealers operating with impunity.

The community of 750 people is facing a mental health crisis, with five residents succumbing to drug overdoses in just one month last November. Residents point to addiction as a symptom of larger systemic issues plaguing their community, such as the influx of illicit drugs and alcohol.

Ninety-year-old Robert Alexie Sr., who has lived in Fort McPherson his whole life, attributes the community’s struggles to significant changes over the decades. He laments the shift from traditional living on the land to dependence on public housing, a move he believes has been detrimental to the community.

Trina Nerysoo, who is involved in advancing housing security through a local enterprise, Dinjii Zhuh Solutions, highlights the lack of viable alternatives to public housing in Fort McPherson. She notes that residents on income support feel limited in their employment options due to territorial government policies that penalize them for working more.

The rental rates in Northwest Territories public housing are determined by factors like region and household income, leading to rent increases if income goes up, further exacerbating the allure of drug dealing and bootlegging as sources of unreported income.

Residents describe Fort McPherson as a community where drug use is on the rise, with crack cocaine becoming a recreational drug. The prevalence of drug use is alarming, with reports of significant earnings from drug dealing and the draining of Elders’ pensions to support families.

The deep-rooted challenges facing the community, including addiction, wealth disparity, and mental health struggles, are traced back to colonial legacies. The cycle of intergenerational trauma stemming from residential schools continues to impact residents, leading to feelings of shame, loss of identity, and disconnection from the land.

Local leaders and residents have expressed frustration with law enforcement and government responses to the crisis, with some resorting to vigilante actions to drive out drug dealers. However, these actions have been met with warnings from authorities against taking matters into their own hands.

Despite the challenges, community members like Agnes Francis and Dave Ford, who work in mental health and child development, emphasize the importance of healing, community support, and cultural teachings in addressing the trauma and grief experienced in the community.

As the community grapples with the aftermath of the drug crisis and multiple deaths, residents are calling for holistic solutions that prioritize mental health services, on-the-land programming, and addictions treatment. They highlight the need for community-led initiatives and empowerment to address the underlying issues contributing to the drug addiction crisis.

In the face of ongoing challenges, residents like Dennis Wright and Gladys Alexie are advocating for increased access to traditional teachings, resiliency skills, and support services to empower future generations and foster a sense of community well-being and resilience. The road to recovery for Fort McPherson is long, but residents are determined to work together towards healing and rebuilding their community.