About two dozen people created a circle around a special fire to raise awareness and honour people who had been lost to addictions on the shores of Carcross’ Nares Lake on Jan. 15. The vigil began with the lake shrouded in a thick fog.
Candles and small hand-tied bundles of sweetgrass and sage were passed to everyone in appreciation of their presence and for everyone’s safekeeping.
The vigil action in Carcross and other Yukon communities was about keeping people safe; to keep more people from dying from drugs and alcohol. In Carmacks, a drummer led the march positioned between a child and a person carrying a sign that read “Treatment before Tragedy.”
In Whitehorse, around 100 people joined together to march from the Chilkoot Inn, down Fourth Avenue and Main Street to the waterfront totem poll. People carried signs calling for more supports across the territory: “No more overdoses,” “Every overdose is one too many,” and “Safe supply saves lives.”
Gathered around the healing totem, organizers and friends and family who had lost loved ones shared testimony, calling for changes in the territory to prevent more unnecessary deaths.
“We need to stand together,” implored Darlene Jim, who stood beside other friends and family of Travis Smarch, a 27-year-old who died from an overdose earlier this month.
From spring 2016 to November 2021, 64 individuals in the Yukon have lost their lives due to drug overdoses. The Carcross/Tagish First Nation reported earlier this month that three of their citizens died from opioids in the first week of 2022.
Other people in the Whitehorse crowd stepped forward to share stories of sisters, cousins, parents and loved ones who had been lost during the opioid crisis.
In Teslin, a sacred fire was lit by Elder John Peters Sr., who spoke a few words. The ceremony closed with a prayer by Annie Johnston. Many youth came out for the vigil in Teslin, which made people happy.
Candles were lit in windows in Ross River and in cabins and homes around the Yukon. Events were also planned in Old Crow and Mayo.
As people spoke in Carcross and listened as cry songs were sung, and as the drums beat — the clouds lifted off the mountaintops. When people lit small candles around the fire, the fog lifted.
— With files from Haley Ritchie
Contact Lawrie Crawford at email@example.com