The Sober House Project kick-started by a group of Prince Albert high school students received a big boost in support on Tuesday.
Representatives from the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) invited the group down for a special ceremony the thank them for their work, and make it known to the community that PAPS supports the initiative.
“I hope (the ceremony) provides more of an outlet and a voice for these youth and their project,” said Erin Parenteau, the Indigenous Resources Officer for the PAPS Victims Services Unit. “I hope the community sees that the Prince Albert Police Service stands with them, stands behind them and encourages them on their journey.”
Parenteau knows Prince Albert has a drug and alcohol problem. She saw it first hand while working as an addictions counsellor prior to joining the Victims Services Unit.
She was moved to tears when she saw a CBC documentary about the Wesmor students who were developing Prince Albert’s Sober House Project. Afterwards, Parenteau and her husband began looking for ways to support the group. Her first move was to get backing from the police.
“We as a police service wanted to honour these kids because they are really making a change in our community,” she said. “Our community needs that change. We have an alcohol problem. It’s not secret, and to see young people making that change is incredible. It’s exciting for us.”
Wesmor students Paywapin Young and Linden Howlett attended on behalf of the group. Parenteau gave them both a ceremonial eagle feather dressed with leather and beads, and PAPS elder Jacob Sanderson closed the gathering with a traditional song.
Sanderson said Indigenous people are at a crossroads when it comes to drug and alcohol addictions. It encourages him to see students like Young and Howlett being positive role models who are leading people in the right direction.
“There is happiness in our people. There is great spirit in our people, and we need to keep bringing it up,” he said.
The honour was an unexpected surprise for the group, which has spent the last year promoting the Sober House Project.
For Young, who graduates high school next week, that time has been an complete success. Initially, she was skeptical students from a small school like Wesmor could make much of a difference. Standing in a room getting thank yous from Police Chief Jon Bergen and Deputy Chief Jason Stonechild, was more than she dreamed would happen.
“It’s an honour,” she said after the ceremony. “I never thought I would be in this kind of facility for this honour.”
Saskatchewan-based author Harold Johnson first proposed the idea of a Sober House Project in his book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). The project calls on residents to create sober spaces by placing Sober House signs on their doors and windows, which means alcohol and intoxicated people are not welcome on the premises.
“A Sober House sign is a quiet declaration that you are choosing to walk the good way of life,” Howlett said during the ceremony. “While Harold R. Johnson’s book was meant as a conversation between himself and his relatives, the Woodland Cree, his message is important for all people, because alcohol abuse is a dream killer.”