By Trevor Greyeyes
For Percy Tuesday, the struggle to battling his demons has been an internal and external struggle for twenty years.
Tuesday, 64, now works for his community – Big Grassy River Ojibwa First Nation – in Northwestern Ontario as an addictions counselor.
“I sobered up twenty years ago,” said Percy. “And I’ve been doing this work ever since.”
He’s been working as a National Native Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program (NNADAP) for much of his sobriety and still struggles with his own addictions.
NNADAP began in the mid-1970′s as a pilot project to address alcohol and drug abuse in the aboriginal community. There are treatment centres set up throughout Canada to address the issue of addictions.
The funding comes through the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch that is a part of Health Canada – a federal department.
Now, Tuesday works out of Big Grassy’s Health Centre where he meets with people and refers them to programs that he feels could help them out. Also, he counsels people on an individual basis and does presentations when asked.
“I use the Medicine Wheel in my work,” said Tuesday. “I don’t use books or any hypothetical situations. It’s real life situations that I’ve experienced myself.”
In the past, Tuesday has been the chief of his community in addition to being known as one “The Rev” in Winnipeg’s music community. He used to play the honky tonk bars that used to line Winnipeg’s Main Street back in the 70′s.
Tuesday grows quiet and talks about those days. He said that there was a time when he went years without being sober. His family suffered because of his music and his drinking but said that’s something he’s got to realize and accept is a part of him.
It’s a realization that he’s tried to share with other people struggling with addictions over the years.
He said that you must look at all areas of a person’s life to understand where their addiction comes from and what may be the best course of action. It’s not just about abstaining from your addiction but coming to grips with the reason and overcoming those reasons.
He said part of recovery is allowing yourself to live with transgressions that you may have done to other people close to you.
“That’s what is so important. You got to forgive yourself first and that’s not as easy as it sounds,” said Tuesday.
Following the Medicine Wheel is about finding a balance between the four directions expressed in it that includes: healthy minds (east), strong inner spirits (south), inner peace (west) and strong bodies (north). There are also medicines, elements and weather associated with each direction.
For instance, while a person might be sober, they could be ignoring their family with too much work that throws their life off balance. It’s a philosophy of balance between all things in life.
“I consider myself an educator. I only make people realize that the solutions to their problems are in them,” said Tuesday.
The Medicine Wheel was taught to Tuesday by an elder while he was struggling with alcoholism more than 20 years ago. It’s a knowledge he shares with people who seek his counseling and does one for every person seeking his help.
When Tuesday learned the Medicine Wheel he had been sober for seven years but realized he was just abstaining and not getting at the root cause of his alcoholism.
Tuesday said, “I don’t claim to be an elder. Although, I am recognized as one but I’m not a healer, pipe carrier, don’t conduct ceremonies or lead in a sweat.”
Although, he says getting in touch with your animal spirit can help – his is the Lynx.
Choose Elders carefully
He said there are a lot of great teachers out there but that you have to search for them. Tuesday also recommends not talking to too many elders because elders can have different opinions and that advice may conflict with each other.
Tuesday said he only goes to see two elders for advice these days.
“That’s an option I always give people,” said Tuesday. “I say if you’re not comfortable with me and that’s ok.”
In those instances, Tuesday will refer them to someone else.
It is a calling that sees him drive four hours from Winnipeg, where he keeps his principle residence, to Grassy River.
Again, Tuesday’s voice is barely above a whisper as he talks about how draining working with people in the throes of addiction can be. However, he sees there is no other way of life for him – he’ll do it until he’s dead he vows.
Tuesday said that he’s seen a shift over the years in the kinds of addictions that have plagued the aboriginal community.
Now, there is gambling, crack and crystal meth have been added to a list – alcohol, inhalants and prescription drugs – already too long that afflict too many communities across the country.
“I personally haven’t seen it in our community but I know crystal meth is out there,” said Tuesday.
As part of his on-going training, Tuesday recently completed a seminar in crystal meth addiction. It’s a drug that he said can rot you from the inside out.
As well, Tuesday has come to recognize the ills of gambling addiction.
He came to realize that after a gambling workshop in Kenora put on by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba that he too was addicted to gambling.
Tuesday said, “I like to think that I’ve been able to do what I do because I’ve been there.”
He also share opinions that some might think are controversial for someone in his position.
For instance, he doesn’t believe in dry reserves.
“It’s like prohibition in the states,” said Tuesday. “You can’t stop it and it only gives someone else a chance to get rich.”
His voice grows loud and angry as he lays the blame for much of the problems at the feet of residential school.
“We (girls and boys) were separated from each other in those schools,” said Tuesday. “Even if you had a sister in another grade, you couldn’t talk to each other because that would be a sin.”
He talks about the separation of families and how that has affected generations of First Nations people to this day.
Also, he vents at systems – like the justice system, Indian Affairs and family services – where non-aboriginal people are working because of the misery of the people. He said many people would be out of work if one day the people in crisis found themselves healed and happy.
As for himself, Tuesday ponders his future. “I don’t know if I’ll ever drink again but I am at peace with myself.”
NNADAP Treatment Centres by Regions
Carrier Sekani Family Services (Najeh Bayou)
Haisla Support and Recovery Centre
Ktunaxa / Kinbasket Wellness Center
Namgis Treatment Center
Nenqayni Treatment Center: Alcohol and Drug Program
Round Lake Treatment Center
North Wind Healing Centre (Treaty 8 Healing Center)
Tsow-Tun Le Lum Treatment Centre
Wilp Si’ Satxw House of Purification
Nenqayni Treatment Center Society
Beaver Lake Wah Pow Detox and Treatment Centre
Family Wellness Centre (Hobbema)
Kapown Treatment Centre
Mark Amy Centre for Healing Addiction
Stoney Adolescent Treatment Ranch
St. Paul’s Treatment Centre
Tsuu T’ina Nation Healing Lodge
White Swan Treatment Centres
Athabasca Alcohol and Drug Project
Clearwater Dené Treatment Centre
Cree Nation Treatment Centre
Ekweskeet Healing Lodge
Mistahey Musqua Treatment Centre
New Dawn Valley Treatment Centre
Saulteaux Healing and Wellness Centre Inc.
Eagle’s Path Youth Solvent Abuse Centre
White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre
Native Addiction Council of Manitoba
Nelson House Medicine Lodge
Peguis Al-Care Centre
Whiskey Jack Treatment Centre
Anishnabe Naadmaagi Gamig Substance Abuse Centre
Dilico Child and Family Services
Migisi Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Centre
Native Horizons Treatment Centre
Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Inc.
Oh Shki Be Te Ze Win, Inc.
Reverend Tommy Beardy Memorial and Wee. Che. He Wayo. Gamik
Sagashtawao Healing Lodge
Nimkee Nupi Gawagan Healing Centre
Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Solvent Abuse Treatment Centre
Centre de réadaptation Miam Uapukun Inc. (Malioténam)
Centre de réadaptation Wapan
Mawiomi Treatment Services
Onen’to: Kon Treatment Centre
Walgwan Centre – First Nations Youth Rehabilitation Centre
Eagle’s Nest Recovery House
Kingsclear First Nations Outpatient Program
Lone Eagle Treatment Centre
Mi’kmaw Lodge Treatment Centre
Rising Sun Rehabilitation Treatment Centre
Saputjivik (Care Centre)
Tobique Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre
Charles J. Andrew Restoration Centre