Undaunted by the pouring rain, a group of people walked in Williams Lake for International Overdose Awareness Day on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
For Donna Roots, the walk presented her with the opportunity to honour her daughter Kristen Anne Denise Walker who died from an overdose in October 2018.
Holding a laminated photograph of Kristen, Roots said she and her daughter, Katrina Roots, drove to Williams Lake from Lac La Hache to participate in the walk.
At home they had put up purple balloons on the gate and made a wreath, Katrina said.
“If you are struggling reach out,” Donna said when asked if she had any words of advice for others.
Barb MacKay lost her son, Elton, to an overdose four and a half years ago. He was 39.
“He was a longtime IV-drug user but had been clean and sober for two years,” she said as she prepared to participate in the walk. “I guess he wanted to have one last party, but unfortunately he used drugs that were tainted with fentanyl.”
MacKay said the police told her that Elton died at his home in Vancouver alone.
A year later, family and friends gathered in Vancouver for a celebration of his life.
“About 100 people were there,” she recalled. “He is still loved and very much missed.”
MacKay has been clean and sober for 28 years.
Before departing on the walk, participants gathered on the Gwen Ringwood Stage at Boitanio Park for an opening prayer, song and remarks made by Williams Lake First Nation elders Virginia Gilbert and Linda Narcisse, Chief Willie Sellars and cultural co-ordinator David Archie.
“We need to come together because drugs don’t discriminate, overdoses don’t discriminate, ” Sellars said, noting it is a First Nations and non-First Nations issue. “It’s a problem in every single one of our communities so we need to hold up individuals to find their balance and their health and lead prosperous lives.”
Gilbert said she overcame addictions herself, even from living on the streets.
Today she strives to be a role model for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Archie, who is from Canoe Creek Dog Creek, said he was glad to see people coming together to address the overdose issue.
“Even though this group here today is small, which is probably good because of COVID, I know each one of us represents probably 100 more people who are wanting to be here but can’t,” he said.
Laurel White, lead for the Williams Lake Community Action Team who organized the walk, thanked everyone for participating.
“Overdose deaths are preventable and we are here today to reduce that stigma and raise the awareness that is needed to save our loved ones and our families until they can get to a point where they are ready to heal themselves,” White said.
The harm reduction model is to meet people where they are at so that way when they are ready to make the decision they are alive that day to do so, she said.