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Grief ceremony in Nanaimo honours loved ones lost to overdose

Ceremony hosted by Snuneymuxw First Nation and Nanaimo community action team

Nanaimo’s MLA Sheila Malcolmson said the gathering held at Maffeo Sutton Park yesterday afternoon was “good medicine.”

The gathering, a candle light grief ceremony to honour those lost to overdose, was held at the Lions Pavilion on Thursday, May 5. Approximately 30 people attended, including Malcolmson and Mayor Leonard Krog.

“It’s so important for us to be here and stand together,” said Malcolmson. “Especially after these – insert swear word – last two years … for the commemoration, to never forget those who have been lost. And to never forget how much work we have ahead of us … The connection is what’s going to get us through this.”

“Over 10,000 British Columbians have died due to toxic drug poisoning,” said Dr. Carmen Lavoie, VIU social work professor. “We are losing an average of 6.2 people per day across our province … This is a crisis. One that’s deserving a response.”

The event was held in partnership with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the Nanaimo Community Action Team on the Overdose Crisis, VIU’s social work program, and with support from Island Health.

The organizers of the event aimed to provide a space to allow those who had lost someone through overdose to collectively come together in a ceremony that embraced grief and loss.

As part of the ceremony, attendees were offered salmon sandwiches, as the act of communally eating symbolized the consumption of lessons learned and a show of camaraderie.

Over the two hours, different community members shared personal experiences of how deaths caused by overdose had personally affected their lives, while others listened in reverential silence.

“I’ve been impacted by this myself within my own community, within my own family,” said Snuneymuxw First Nation Coun. Wanda Good. “When we can heal together, it’s a really good way to be able to move through your grief and loss and to honour it.”

At the end of the ceremony, a cleansing brush done by cedar boughs was offered to attendees, with some also burning notes written to their loved ones by candle light.

READ MORE: Parallel crises: How COVID-19 exacerbated B.C.’s drug overdose emergency

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Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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