Guest comment: Raymond Pidzamecky is a registered social worker in the NWT and Nunavut.
First let me introduce myself. My education includes a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor of social work in community development.
Recently, I finished 29 years of service as a social worker. I have served as a probation officer, school social worker, a disability policy analyst with the GNWT and director of youth programs in Ontario.
Some of my work experience involved creating a parenting program that ran for 10 years in Ontario and a police diversion program that resulted in the hiring of full-time social workers at the Halton Regional Police Services in Ontario.
I first arrived in Yellowknife from Ontario in 2004 when, as director of youth programs for Appleby College, I negotiated an opportunity for youth from Ontario to go on the land in Fort McPherson and participate in a cross-cultural peer leadership program. That program ran for three summers. I need to acknowledge Yellowknife social worker Sandra Little M.S.W. who first taught me the words and truths behind residential schools and helped negotiate an agreement with the Gwich’in (Hazel Nerysoo) to host the on-the-land program at the Tl’oondih Healing Lodge.
Forgive me for I am not self aggrandizing, but instead trying to demonstrate that I have some experience to back up what I am about to share.
My current job is mental health service provider to the federal government’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Northern Region. For the past eight years I have provided counselling to Indian residential school survivors and their families. Clients often include second and third generations that follow survivors. I am one of several counsellors available to these clients throughout the Northwest Territories through Health Canada. Each month I travel to see clients in the following regions: Yellowknife, the Deh Cho, the Sahtu region and the Beauford Delta.
Having said all this, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for the level of violence and trauma found in the Northwest Territories. There is a crisis among not only Indigenous adults but also their youth, especially in the smaller more remote communities. The sexual abuse of girls and women continues at an alarming rate. This should not come as any surprise. Unfortunately our legal system’s statistics do not reflect the true picture.
The other issue I see repeatedly is the failure of treatment to help Indigenous adults and youth who seek help to become clean and sober. Now we can list all the contributing factors and reasons, but what we really need is a paradigm shift in thinking and action. No more working papers.
What motivated me to write this column is MLA Daniel McNeely. I don’t really like any kind of politics, but I do like what he is asking for. He is concerned for the youth of the Sahtu region and believes a crisis is at hand. Therefore, he is proposing a Sahtu Youth Conference in the summer of 2019. I applaud this man for first admitting that there is in fact a crisis and secondly, for proposing that solutions must come from the youth. I agree because, for the most part, I believe all of us adults i.e. politicians, counsellors, band councils and parents have failed to change in a meaningful way the tide of violence and drug/alcohol abuse that affects children and youth directly and indirectly.
So … this means I will not pontificate solutions. Instead I will put my efforts behind MLA McNeely’s efforts to set up a youth conference this summer. My only suggestion to him is this needs to be a territorial conference, one that all decision-makers should attend.