Alcohol in Northern Saskatchewan


In Poelzer’s study (book listed below under “Resources”), alcohol misuse was consistently listed as the prominent social problem in Northern Saskatchewan. One of the Metis women interviewed stated that

”Drinking is the result of the rapid growth and sudden changes of our times. I think people are unable to take the pressures of the fast development of the north. For instance, there are so many regulations changing about fishermen and their nets. One year, they buy one size of mesh for their fish nets; and then maybe a year or two after that the regulations change to a certain other size, such that they have to throw the first net away because it is not the right size anymore. There are all kinds of pressures...housing...parents might have problems with the kids at school...The pressure all stem from the society, from the rapid growth. Then drinking starts” (Poelzer 1985, 84-86).

One of the peripheral social issues that is believed to lead to drinking as a coping mechanism includes isolation caused by rapid population growth in their respective northern communities. Several Metis women in different communities made this observation, making statements such as “the town was getting so big that it was difficult to know even half of the people.”

One woman stated that she rarely recognizes anybody she knows anymore, while another thought that community members tend to stay home and not involve themselves in the community when they don’t know anyone (Poelzer 1985, 113). Some participants believed that individuals were using alcohol to fill the void of lack of social interaction or to foster social interaction. Another peripheral social issue believed to lead to alcohol misuse is a lack of recreational opportunities stemming from economic, social, or political disenfranchisement. Other individuals reported factors such as using alcohol to cope with marital problems and domestic violence and was cited as a factor contributing to domestic violence. Alcohol was also reported as a means of managing financial problems, including unemployment (Poelzer 1985, 84-90).



Alcohol misuse is not indicative of inferiority or a failed adaptability to change ("stuck in the past," "susceptible to alcohol" are MYTHS).  Rather, substance misuse and addiction are human survival responses when circumstances of life are unmanageable, social supports, and activities important to wellbeing (such as traditional lifeways like trapping, hunting, cultural ceremonies or traditions) have been inhibited.

For example, stemming from the implementation of regulatory market policies, Indigenous peoples in Northern Saskatchewan surveyed found their traditional livelihoods of hunting, trapping and fishing disrupted. The intrusion of a capitalist market economy replaced the trade and barter system which Northern residents had become familiarized with through the Fur Trade. Accompanying philosophies of market-capitalism that pride individualism and liberalism (the "free market" ideology) undermined holistic and community-centered philosophies common within Indigenous worldviews. The government did not respond to the imposed restrictions by constructing supports, services, or educational programming to support transitioning lifeways in the North as development projects and settlers moved into Indigenous territories.