Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Piikani's Piitaapoyi Group unveils alcohol and drug abuse awareness billboards

One side of new Piitaapoyi billboard
C. Davis photos/video

Velma Little Mustache/Chris Davis

The Piitaapoyi Group is composed of recovering alcohol and drug addicts who have fundraised and lobbied for sponsors to help built two billboard signs along Highway 3 as it passes through the Piikani Nation. The billboards are promoting the awareness to say "no" to alcohol and drugs.

On Saturday morning June 6  a ceremony was held and a number of dignitaries spoke to the crowd, including Mills Big Bull giving a prayer, Councillor Brian Jackson, Councillor Barnaby Provost, Marlin Strikes With A Gun, Fabian North Peigan, Pastor Mel Boerema, Alberta Foster Parent Association Director John Starkey, and MC Doug Iron Shirt.  The speeches were followed by drumming and singing as the signs were unveiled.

Piitaapoyi means "Eagle Speaker" and is the Blackfoot name of Peter Strikes With A Gun, who has contributed many years in the addictions field and also former Chief of the Piikani Nation. One of the billboard signs is a painting of Peter with a message to say "no" to alcohol and drugs.  "I feel so humbled," Strikes With A Gun said after the ceremony.  "So many of my friends have died. Relatives that never had a chance for this kind of moments." 

Former Piikani Chief Piitaapoyi (Peter Strikes With A Gun)

"I've had three brothers that died, one sister, alcoholism. My sister's sons are the ones that drew that picture," he added, pointing to the detail shown below. "Niitsitapiksi. Real people."

Detail from one of the signs (Niitsitapiksi = "Real People")
"Greetings elders, especially the fellas that did all the hard work," said Piikani councillor Fabian North Peigan, after first speaking in Blackfoot to the crowd. "They're the ones that should be appreciated most."

"We need leaders here, we need leaders to see what's going on."

Piikani Councillor Fabian North Peigan
"One of the biggest challenges, and long standing challenges we've had in Piikani is alcohol and drug abuse. It has divided our families, it has caused our children to be lost into child welfare. It has caused a lot of chaos." North Peigan said this abuse has caused the separation of northern Peigan people from their cultural identity and culture.

"We are people, and sister tribes of the Blackfeet people, we have pride, we just need to claim it back."

North Peigan explained he was an alcoholic and a drug abuser in his past. "Everybody knows that, I've got no secrets. I am not ashamed of what I was, but I am very proud of what I have been able to become." He praised the efforts of Peter Strikes with a Gun "It was his work, laying the foundation, leading us in the right direction."

"It's good to see our younger people listening, and taking pride back and listening to our elders, and making an impact."

"On behalf of the Chief, and on behalf of council, on behalf of the former leaders, that are here with us... I just want to say on behalf of my family, keep each and every one of us in prayer. Listen to the elders, and don't get mad when you are told stern stuff. It's not personal, it's part of discipline." 

Councillor Brian Jackson applauded the efforts of the many people who run AA groups, and the ones who are involved with the Piitaapoyi group. "Their work is always cut out for them, especially when you're on an Indian reserve."

"We try to endeavour to make the Piikani Nation a better place, and it's groups like this, the Piitaapoyi group, that helps us and makes us a strong community."

Master of Ceremonies Doug Iron Shirt
"In an AA meeting on an Indian reservation I heard the words 'sobriety is traditional'," said Doug Iron Shirt.  "I stand at the top of the sacred mountain, and listen to the wind. I have a conscience, daily contact with my creator, today. He loves me. Everything is sacred as a result of these 12 steps, and the love and recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous."

Piikani Lighthouse Pastor Mel Boerema

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