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Victims of drug overdose in Yukon remembered with memorial walk

International Overdose Awareness Day is a day to remember drug overdose victims

On a warm Thursday afternoon, about 40 people gathered at the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre in Whitehorse to commemorate the International Overdose Awareness Day and remember those who have died as a result of drug overdose in the Yukon.

The atmosphere was sombre.

Blood Ties Four Directions Centre executive director Brontë Renwick-Shields explained the importance of the event in raising awareness about overdose deaths in the territory.

“This event is in recognition of the lives we have lost to the overdose crisis as well as a call to action to end the crisis and the deaths we have been experiencing. Overdose is one of the most critical issues facing our community,” she said.

Renwick-Shields said 86 Yukoners have died from an overdose since 2016. Of this number, 12 deaths have been recorded since the beginning of this year.

She said one death to an overdose is too many, noting that the current figure is far too large of a number.

“It continues to climb and we can never be doing enough to address this crisis and I think it needs to be top of mind when it comes to issues for our community,” she said. “Each of these individuals is loved and each of their lives matter. Each of them was so important to this community.”

She told the News that people who use drugs are “valuable members of our community that deserve to be loved, respected,” adding that “If you are someone who has the power to make change, this is your call to action.”

The International Overdose Awareness Day is held on Aug. 31 each year. The day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdoses, remember those lost to an overdose, acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind and renew commitment and partnerships to end overdoses.

Discussions about prevention and solutions are had through a series of events and awareness campaigns to end overdose deaths.

Some of the activities to mark the day in Whitehorse included a support circle where community members share their experiences, naloxone training and education, an art memorial project to remember victims of overdoses and a memorial walk.

At the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC), a sacred fire was hosted by fire keeper Mark Rutledge who said the sacred fire was prepared with tobacco, cedar, sage and sweet grass and is used in ceremonies like this to ask for guidance and assistance from their ancestors.

Renwick-Shields said the overdose crisis has impacted Yukoners on many levels and each day, they remember and think about family members and loved ones who have lost people to an overdose.

“Today is a day where we can come together in solidarity and support each other in that grief and remember the impacts and the importance they (victims) had in our communities and make sure that their names and lives are not forgotten,” she said.

On steps taken by the government to address the opioid crisis, Renwick-Shields told the News that until overdose deaths end “we have absolutely not done enough.”

She said overdose deaths are preventable and there are solutions to this crisis including safe supplies to all Yukoners who need it.

“We need decriminalization of people who use substances so that they can safely access support and to de-stigmatize substance use in this community so that people feel they can speak openly,” she said. “We have people who are afraid to call 911 in the event of an emergency because they fear criminalization and that cannot continue. We need people to feel safe when a medical emergency happens and to call emergency services.”

Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nation (CYFN), said that Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis. Chambers said it’s essential to partner with community-based organizations like Blood Ties to bring awareness and to help educate and inform the community about resources that are available to them while addressing the stigma faced by people who use drugs.

‘That’s why it’s important that we continue to talk about the crisis and to also provide support and services for people,” she said.

Chambers said CYFN has partnered with Blood Ties over the last few years to support the work they are doing and continue the conversation in the public as a way of informing the communities and individuals affected.

She told the News CYFN works with over 300 individual families through the family preservation and justice program, including sending more than 300 people for private treatment outside of the territory due to a lack of culturally appropriate support services in the Yukon.

“We continue to help families navigate support and services including support for harm reduction supplies and access to the referred care clinics,” she said.

As the event came to an end and the crowd started to disperse, Renwick-Shields said in the future, Blood Ties would like to see weekend hours services at the supervised consumption site.

Drop-in programs at the centre run from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m each weekday. People can come in to access available resources, speak with staff or use the community space.

“We will continue to provide education and advocate for an end to this crisis and for the people we serve,” she said. “It was really amazing to see the number of people who came out today and the stories that were shared. We need to work together to fight this crisis.”

Contact Patrick Egwu at

Patrick Egwu

About the Author: Patrick Egwu

I’m one of the newest additions at Yukon News where I have been writing about a range of issues — politics, sports, health, environment and other developments in the territory.
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