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Substance abuse is a worrying health hazard for aboriginal population. It is a growing social crisis that necessitates serious attention. Throughout the past, indigenous communities have undergone severe trauma, racism and marginalization and the problem of drug abuse only exacerbates the situation. The purpose of this paper is to shed light on sociological reasons behind the menace of aboriginal drug use and to recommend an initiative to alleviate the problem.
According to Statistics Canada (2016), 4.9% of nation’s total population reported an aboriginal identity and First nations people, Métis and Inuit are the three groups recognized as aboriginal peoples within boundaries of modern-day Canada. In Canada, since 1600s, aboriginal groups have faced numerous disturbing events. Attempt to Christianize aboriginals, creation and implementation of the residential school system, and limited right to visit other groups on their residential reserves left the native communities marginalized (Cao1, Burton Jr., & Liu, 2018). Today also, aboriginal groups have poor quality of life as compared to non-aboriginal population. For instance, Pendakur & Pendakur, 2011 found that Aboriginal peoples’ income lags noticeably behind others (as cited in Cao1, Burton Jr., & Liu, 2018). Furthermore, according Currie, Wild, Schopflocher, & Laing, 2015, percentage of aboriginal adults who reported facing racial discrimination in the previous year was above 80%. Mohammadi (2018) revealed that aboriginal peoples, especially youth, are more likely to involve in illicit drug abuse as compared to non-aboriginal population. According Aboriginal peoples survey 2012, daily smoking was reported by 63% of Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat, compared with 29% of those outside Inuit Nunangat and About a quarter (26%) of Inuit aged 15 and older reported heavy drinking—30% of men and 23% of women (Wallace, 2014). The figures provide evidence for extreme substance dependence among Canadian aboriginals.
The first sociological explanation for drug use among native communities is absence of social support and isolation from society. A large number of aboriginal people have to live within the secluded reserves. Social conditions on many reserves reflect the historical and political neglect that Canada has shown toward people of Indigenous ancestry (Mccue, 2018). Furthermore, in 2015, Currie, Wild, Schopflocher, & Laing reported that more than 80% of Aboriginal adults had experienced racial discrimination in the past year. According to Durkheim’s theory of anomie, deviance is seen to result where feelings of disconnection from society predominate. Individuals who believe they are a part of society are less likely to commit crimes against it (Langara.panopen.com, 2019). Native communities possibly do not feel the need to stress upon society’s opinion of their actions as they do not feel acknowledged and involved in society. Hence, it can be said that social exclusion often causes indigenous population to consume drugs because of lack of care for social consequences. Also, drugs act as a way for aboriginal people to escape solitude.
The second sociological explanation for the issue is lack of employment and educational opportunities. Pendakur & Pendakur, (2011) reported by Investigating the earnings and income disparity faced by Aboriginal people in Canada from 1995 to 2005, that Aboriginal people faced substantial income and earnings gaps in comparison with Canadian born majority-group workers with similar characteristics (such as age and education). The estimated gaps were about 10 to 20 percent for women and 20 to 50 percent for men. This has rendered aboriginal communities financially insecure. Furthermore, according to Bowlby & McMullens (2002) statistics indicate that fewer than 50% of Aboriginal students acquire a high school diploma, in contrast to an 88% graduation rate among non-Aboriginal students (as cited in Pirbhai-Illich, 2010). According to Robert Merton’s strain theory access to socially acceptable goals plays a part in determining whether a person conforms or deviates. The discrepancy between the reality of structural inequality and the high cultural value of economic success creates a strain that has to be resolved by some means (Langara.panopen.com, 2019). So, when aboriginal face similar situation, where they are left with no means to fulfil their dreams, the only option left is crime. Due to unemployment and illiteracy plethora of young aboriginals are led astray. Many of them turn to drug smuggling in an effort to support their family. Unfortunately, once they get involved in delinquency and illicit drug usage, it becomes difficult to overcome this fixation.
The third explanation for drug abuse among ethnic people is intergenerational trauma, post traumatic stress and other mental health issues. It is important to note that these are not merely individual health problems but are extremely common among aboriginal masses. Research with Aboriginal peoples reveal that illegal drug usage is related to mental disorders (Melchior, Prokofyeva, Younes, Surkan, & Martins, 2014; Tu, Ratner, & Johnson, 2008; Webber et al., 2016, as cited in Cao1, Burton Jr., & Liu, 2018). This history of mental trauma can be dated back to 1847, when the Canadian government operated 130 residential boarding schools across Canada for Aboriginal children, who were forcibly taken from their homes. Although the specified purpose of these residential schools was to provide education, these schools were often plagued by underfunding, disease, and abuse (Charles & DeGane, 2013; Monchalin, 2016, as cited in Cao1, Burton Jr., & Liu, 2018). Intergenerational Indian Residential School (IRS) trauma continues to undermine the well-being of today’s aboriginal population and having a familial history of IRS attendance has also been linked with more frequent contemporary stressor experiences and relatively greater effects of stressors on well-being. It is also suggested IRS attendance across several generations within a family appears to have cumulative effects (Bombay, Matheson, & Anisman, 2014).
Drug abuse in aboriginal communities is a problem caused by variety of factors. Hence, to make a difference, government and society needs to focus on different areas. First of all, efforts should be made to make indigenous population feel like part of the nation, not a secluded community. For example, native people should be given chance to represent themselves in politics and athletics as well as there should be strict laws against racism. Secondly, therapeutic intervention and counseling should be provided to people suffering mental health issues such as PTSD and stress. Thirdly, aboriginal people should be trained using workshops so that they could get employed. Lastly, aboriginal children should be provided best education and environment to grow up which would ultimately keep them away from felonious activities and drugs.
To recapitulate, consumption of drugs is a growing problem among indigenous communities which is caused mainly due to absence of social support, lack of employment and educational opportunities, and intergenerational trauma, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. To curtail this menace, authorities should endeavor to provide education, healthcare, employment to aboriginals and reduce racial discrimination and isolation of natives.
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- Liqun Cao, Burton Jr., V. S., & Liu Liu. (2018). Correlates of Illicit Drug Use Among Indigenous Peoples in Canada: A Test of Social Support Theory. International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology, 62(14), 4510–4527. https://doi-org.ezproxy.langara.ca/10.1177/0306624X18758853
- Mccue, Harvey A.. “Reserves”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 05 October 2018, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-reserves. Accessed 15 July 2019
- Miller, C. L., Pearce, M. E., Moniruzzaman, A., Thomas, V., Christian, W., Schechter, M. T., & Spittal, P. M. (2011). The Cedar Project: risk factors for transition to injection drug use among young, urban Aboriginal people. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(10), 1147–1154. https://doi-org.ezproxy.langara.ca/10.1503/cmaj.101257
- National Indigenous Peoples Day… by the numbers. (2018, July 05). Retrieved from https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/dai/smr08/2018/smr08_225_2018
- Pirbhai-Illich, F. (2010). Aboriginal Students Engaging and Struggling With Critical Multiliteracies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(4), 257-266. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.langara.ca/stable/40961537
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