By Leslie Knibbs
MISSISSAUGA FIRST NATION—The North Shore Tribal Council held its 7th Annual FASD Conference on November 18 at Mississauga First Nation (MFN).
Frances Pine of N’Mninoeyaa (Aboriginal Health Access Centre) coordinated the event bringing in speakers to address those attending. Master of Ceremonies, Orion Southwind of Sagamok Anishinabek First Nation welcomed everyone and introduced Elder Willard Pine of Garden River First Nation to give the opening prayer. Following the prayer, MFN Chief Reginald Niganobe greeted everyone at the conference.
Keynote speaker David Boulding, a lawyer since 1988, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) consultant since 2000, makes appearances at conferences both in Canada and internationally, speaking on the topic of FASD and the law. During his presentation at MFN, Boulding best described FASD to those attending, “alcohol in the womb is a solvent and acts on the baby’s developing brain like paint stripper acts on layers of old paint on furniture: it dissolves brain cells, bubbles them away. Thus, brain functions are missing.”
“FASD is not restricted to poor marginalized Canadians. Rich stockbrokers have wives who binge-drink while pregnant,” stated Boulding. “Young educated professional women binge-drink almost as a rite of passage, often not knowing they are pregnant.”
Boulding spoke of the problems an FASD victim experiences because of lack of executive brain functions where cognitive function is decreased. In his discussion, Boulding described the dilemma an FASD victim experiences when dealing with sex.
Boulding described these relations.
“Sex is like a freight train,” noted Boulding. “It’s really hard to stop [when started].”
Boulding explained the difficulties a victim may have when interacting sexually with another when given “yes” then “no” answers repetitively. Acknowledging and recognizing when to stop is difficult for an FASD victim according to Boulding. He stressed that anyone working with FASD victims must use what he called “repetition with heart,” and continually repeat information to make it clear.
Also attending the conference were Police Chief John Syrette of the Anishinabek Police Services (APS) and Inspector of the Central Region, Marc LeSage. With the recent introduction of the FASD identification bracelets to identify victims to those they may be in contact with, LeSage is confident this program will help both victims and police when dealing with each other. Applying for a bracelet is a voluntary action by victims.
“I’d like to see more people sign up,” said LeSage.
He credits Frances Pine with making a training video available for police services on how to deal with an FASD victim. The video has been shown to all Indigenous officers across the APS. According to LeSage, the OPP have added the video to their training program also. With a proactive approach to dealing with FASD, the APS has increased awareness amongst their officers. Every two months, the APS attends meeting with other police, Crown Attorneys and mental health workers where FASD is part of the discussion.
“The bracelet is another tool in the tool kit or us,” noted LeSage.
APS Police Chief John Syrette strongly encourages anyone dealing with FASD to fill out the application for a bracelet. When asked how they would deal with someone wearing a bracelet if they allegedly break a law, Surette said a conversation would take place between the victim, and, depending on the circumstance, the charges may be withdrawn in court; however, he said, “ideally [there would] not charge but we must go through the process.”
Other presenters included Catherine Horlock, Director of Member Experience at MedicAlert, Priscilla Southwind, Program Coordinator with North East Aboriginal Partnership, Melody Hawdon from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Dana Peterson, Assistant Crown Attorney in Sault Ste Marie, and, Kelly Oreskovih, a social worker with Health Science North NEO Kids FASD Clinic.
In closing his presentation, Boulding suggested that school boards should have someone attending these conferences along with mayors of the communities. He stressed FASD “is not an [Indigenous] problem.”
Boulding told those in attendance that “[non-Indigenous] women are more apt to have their children diagnosed with ADHD rather than FASD”. Back in 2000, a Judge called Boulding asking him to speak at a conference in Vancouver after he had written a paper on the FASD, “Mistakes I Have Made.”
At this first conference, Boulding, speaking from his heart, began to cry in front of the 1,200 people attending. When he looked out to the audience, he saw others in tears. Looking forward following that initial conference, Boulding would attend and speak at conferences across North America, in Queensland, Australia, and Manilla in the Phillipines, delivering his message on FASD and finding out as he said, “there are lots of good people in the world.”