An Empowerment Connection for Indigenous People with Alcohol Dependence
Alcoholics Unanonymous is a crowd-sourced digital portal for individuals coping with alcohol dependence. Through a mobile and desktop platform, people from Indigenous communities across the Canadian arctic can connect, share their experiences, and tap into storytelling traditions that have been used to connect and heal people for centuries.
Ultimately, Indigenous people in remote communities across the Arctic, who were once disenfranchised and without resources, will now have voices and access to a shared community that they can turn to for support when facing challenges, for encouragement towards positive change, and for reassurance that they are not alone in their experiences. The project is led in collaboration with William Greenland, an Indigenous counsellor from the Gwich’in First Nation.
More than a quarter of the population of Indigenous communities in Canada suffer from alcohol disorders with deleterious effects and few solutions. Studies show strong correlations between alcohol dependence, depression and suicide, and several Indigenous communities across Canada are currently in the midst of what is being called a “suicide crisis.”
Social isolation is a key problem: it can lead to or exacerbate alcohol dependence, which in turn can cause people to retreat further into isolation – creating a cycle that can be difficult to escape. Very little is being done in the Canadian north to address this issue. There are few, if any, treatment centres in the regions, and draconian efforts, like banning alcohol, have largely failed.
However, studies show that building meaningful connections can be a path to recovery. This is the goal of our proposed project, Alcoholics Unanonymous, which will encourage individuals in isolated Indigenous northern communities to find ways of connecting and sharing their struggles. Traditional academic and clinical approaches to alcohol dependence have taken a top-down approach, with scholars studying the program and clinicians offering support services. This project is unique in its approach, with a bottom-up methodology, empowering community members to lead their own recovery.
Through a digital portal, alcoholicsunanonymous.com, those coping with alcohol dependence will have a safe space to share their experiences and tap into storytelling traditions that have been used to connect and heal people for centuries. Participants can share stories, music, artwork, cellphone videos – whatever medium best helps them convey their struggles and their victories. Some may choose to just observe, or share anonymously, or even openly connect with others experiencing similar struggles. Regardless of how they choose to participate, those who embrace this platform will be immediately connected to others who can provide responses, coping strategies, success stories and mutual help.
By using a digital platform (accessible on mobile and desktop devices), we plan to bridge the sometimes-vast geographic divide between different Indigenous communities. The program will be modelled on successful apps like Big White Wall, which provides research-based, effective support for individuals struggling with anxiety and depression.
The platform will be developed in collaboration with the community. Our partner, William Greenland, provides counselling services for Indigenous men through the New Day Program, which is a community-based organisation focused on family violence. Greenland has had his own personal struggles with alcohol dependency and acknowledges the importance of building a supportive community where people feel safe sharing their stories. He will provide cultural guidance and outreach support throughout the duration of the project. He will also assist with encouraging uptake among Indigenous communities across the Arctic.
Partnering with Greenland will also ensure that this project is culturally sensitive and taps into the traditions of Indigenous people across the region. Research has shown that rates of suicide, for instance, decrease when communities develop culturally-focused programming. For example, the Snuneymuxw First Nation has been “suicide-free for five years” and they credit their success to programming that reconnects youth with traditional Snuneymuxw culture.
Our project would be piloted in Inuvik, and with leadership from Greenland will expand throughout Indigenous communities in the Arctic.