Montreal Lake Cree Nation has built a treatment centre in response to a crystal methamphetamine crisis among its band members.

“You can see in the eyes of that they are not well. They hear voices. The voices tell them often to hurt themselves or to hurt somebody else,” said Lionel Bird, a resident of Montreal Lake and the executive director of the Montreal Lake Child and Family Agency.

The centre is built on a parcel of band land within the Little Red River reserve, about 50 kilometres from Prince Albert. Montreal Lake Cree Nation paid for construction. Many of the tradespeople donated their labour. Two of the main buildings were moved in and repurposed. The Prince Albert Grand Council and the band are now calling on the provincial and federal government to help pay for the centre’s operational costs.

The first participants in the program are scheduled to arrive in late November.

The Montreal Lake Child and Family Agency estimates more than 50 per cent of the band’s 1,200 members are active crystal meth users. In 2015, many people from the community were evacuated to Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina due to the wildfires in the north. During the six-week evacuation many members were exposed to crystal meth.

In 2019, six deaths have been attributed to crystal meth use. The reserve is also dealing with multiple attempted suicides and health problems associated with the addiction.

“I am seeing lots of people who present with manifestations complete with psychotic and they are very unwell - because they have command hallucinations that are telling them to kill themselves. Disengaged because of their drug use,” said Tyla Sylvestre, a Registered Psychiatric Nurse. She said she has seen a lot in the three years she has worked on the reserve.

“We’ve actually found people in critical physical condition that needed physical help,” Sylvestre said. “They don’t want to be identified as users. They don’t want the stigma attached to the use of crystal meth so are reluctant to come into the clinic and that leaves them at home suffering.”

Those who are recovering from the addition said withdrawing from crystal meth is physically and mentally painful. Arlene Bird is a recovering crystal meth user. She tried the drug 14 years ago and was able to stop using the drug by getting a new group of friends and with support from her family.

“The sweating severely, the shaking, the vomiting, the psychosis stage where you think people are talking about you. You are mentally no there. You are somewhere else.”

Treatment for meth addiction takes a long period of time. Psychiatric nurses and counsellors are needed on reserve to deal with the mental illness that follows crystal meth users.

Lionel Bird said intergenerational trauma is the cause of addiction and the reason people abuse substances like meth.

“They’ve suffered some trauma and have core issues so when you go to a 28-day program you’re not identifying those core issues and dealing with them effectively to deal with your life afterwards,” Lionel Bird said.

Sylvestre said studies have shown the longer the treatment program, the better the prognosis for drug addictions. The Montreal Lake program is one year. It starts with 14-day detox at the Cyrstal Meth Reduction Complex. Participants then go to a camp on Montreal Lake for six to 12 weeks to spend time on the land doing traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering.

Participants will then be followed in an aftercare program for at least a year and support from health care workers and counsellors will continue as long as needed.

Bird said while at the treatment centre the participants will be give guidance on how to deal with past emotional traumas, violence, abuse and sexual abuse.