Liquor ban no magic fix

The Yellow Quill reserve's drinking problem turned deadly long before Kaydence and Santana Pauchay were left to freeze in -50 prairie winds by a father, suspected by his family of being drunk.

Two years ago, after several young people on the Saskatchewan reserve died of alcohol-related causes, the band council began a fierce debate about how to fix the community's rampant alcohol problem, councillor Larry Cachene said.

A group of elders advised them to establish a dry community - a common but rarely successful solution to epidemic drinking.

The Yellow Quill Tribal Council immediately championed the idea.

But, like hundreds of Canadian communities before it, the reserve soon learned the difficulties of turning a community dry.

"There were legal issues, enforcement issues, issues around housing - all sorts of issues preventing us from going through with it," said Mr. Cachene, a six-year veteran on council.

"We all supported the idea, but we wanted to do it right. That takes time."

Two years after the idea of a dry community arose, a council resolution to ban alcohol is on the books, but there is still no bylaw.

Searchers discovered the bodies of three-year-old Kaydence Pauchay and her baby sister Santana, dressed in nothing more than T-shirts and diapers, in a snow-covered field Tuesday and Wednesday.

Their father, Christopher Pauchay, was found nearby Tuesday morning and taken to hospital suffering from frostbite and hypothermia. Eight hours passed before he was able speak well enough to ask about his daughters.

Yellow Quill Chief Robert Whitehead expressed remorse Wednesday that a drinking ban was never enacted, saying that it may have prevented the deaths.

Those who've witnessed other dry towns suggest otherwise.

"The chief shouldn't be agonizing as if a ban was a magic bullet," said sociologist Richard Thatcher, author of Fighting Firewater Fiction: Moving Beyond the Disease Model of Alcoholism in First Nations. "In many cases, you're having to rebuild family systems and personal thinking styles. The solution isn't as simple as, 'Let's have a dry reserve.' "

Yellow Quill council's enthusiasm for an alcohol ban diminished soon after the idea was first proposed.

It considered penalizing drinkers with fines, but realized financial punishment could do more harm than good. "The majority of people on our reserve barely make enough money to support a family," Mr. Cachene said. "By fining a person, you're also penalizing the children in their family. You're caught with a double edge."

One section of the community even threatened to challenge any such bylaw on human rights grounds.

More than 230 native communities in Canada have enacted intoxicant bylaws, according to Margot Geduld, spokeswoman for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

Many of those are remote northern communities with no road access, where banning alcohol sales usually sparks a hearty trade in black market and bootlegged liquor.

In Kimmirut, a dry Nunavut community, liquor distribution carries at $10,000 fine. Even so, alcohol use is common, say residents, many of whom believe liquor played a role in the murder of Kimmirut RCMP Constable Douglas Scott last year.

In Alkali Lake, B.C., a dry town famous for curing many of the substance abuse problems that plagued it during the seventies, stopping liquor sales alone didn't solve the problem.

"There was no quick fix," band councillor Irene Johnson said. "We found that we had to help heal people as well, set up treatments centres, hold sobriety events and healing circles."

Nearly 25 years after the town started drying out, substance abuse still lingers.

"We still have our struggles, our suicides, our car accidents," Ms. Johnson said. But with a 65-per-cent sobriety rate, "at least the young people have some community members as role models."

Had a ban been in place, Mr. Cachene believes the deaths of Kaydence and Santana Pauchay "probably wouldn't have happened."

But he also knows it will take more than bylaws to dry out his community. "You've got to sell the idea that there is a better life without alcohol," he said.

"That's tough, especially at a time like this."

source: The Globe and Mail