John Archie started his 26th year sober as of this week. He has been sober since 1992, he says.
“As an alcoholic, I know I can never go back drinking because it’s a progressive disease.”
Archie says he’s been doing a lot of research why he became who he became.
The Indian Act prohibited sale of alcohol to First Nations starting in 1884. In 1951, amendments to the act meant provincial governments had to petition the general-in-council to fully implement the amendment within their jurisdictions. In B.C., that prohibition ended in 1962.
“They opened up the liquor stores and the bars to Indians and that’s when alcoholism exploded on our reserves and probably every rez in Canada,” he says. “I call it the alcoholics sixties, there was, I would say, a 100 per cent of our rez was alcoholics. I grew up in it, the poverty and the alcoholism.”
While there might have been some who weren’t, Archie says his parents were.
“Most of the time they bought groceries but not all the time. But I know other people were worse off than I was. So growing up with alcoholic parents in an alcoholic community. That’s your role models. It seems like a normal life.”
Some of the children on the reserve were into alcohol at 12 years old and earlier, he says.
“When they got drunk [inaudible] it was really bad. It was like an explosion between them. Every time they drank violent explosions started. Not only in my family but other families that, between other families, tribal fights and stuff like that. That’s the kind of environment I grew up in.”
He wasn’t a victim of the violence, but he was sexually abused, he says.
“When I was a child, I was sexually abused, I would say anywhere from four to eight years old and then I went to the residential school and I was sexually abused when I was up there. All those things impacted me. I was quite young.”
The abuse impacted Archie quite severely, he says.
“I guess through being sexually abused I lost my ability to walk and I lost my ability to talk.”
His auntie used to help him with moving his feet, he mimics.
She used to tell him, “come on, lift up yourself. Come on, lift up yourself,” he says, adding that he used to be too scared to talk.
“My auntie and my mother and my grandfather spent a lot of time with me and they got me better.”
John Archie (front, second from the left) at the St. Joseph Mission Residential school in 1966. Fred Waterhouse picture.
In addition to himself, his grandparents went to the Mission residential school and his mother was up there and all the generations in between and after, he says, adding that he was there from 1965 to 1967. The majority of the nuns, supervisors, workers were sexually abusing the students there, he says.
“When [the students] become sexually active, they do the same things to the younger kids. So, that’s how I became a victim as young as I was. That’s how I understood it when I thought about things logically. My mind is trying to figure the whole picture out and what’s happened.
“I’m able to figure out why my community became like this and why my parents became alcoholic. Why my community became alcoholics and why not too many people can have a beer. Not too many Indians can have a beer and put it down.”
He thinks he was sexually abused when he used to pass out drunk too because there were lots of abusers around, he says.
According to Archie, he drank in teens but not excessively so. He started drinking more heavily when he was 21, he says. His wife left him and his children were taken away. Archie says, he was never physically violent with his children but that the verbal anger was just as bad. His children would tense up when he came by, he says.
He tried to go to a treatment centre four times but wasn’t ready to quit drinking when he did. Eventually, his sister, Charlotte (who was also the band’s first female chief), came to talk to him who had managed to go sober and they talked for several hours, he says. He adds that she helped him start his journey to quitting right there.
“I had some beer in the fridge. I opened my beer. I spilled it in the sink. I opened a beer. I spilled it in the sink. I opened up my mickey and spilled it in the sink. I was crying because I didn’t want to quit drinking.
“I went through withdrawals the next day it was so brutal. I went to go to get two cans of beer. I tried to drink it and I got more sick so I decided that’s it.”
After two weeks he went to a treatment centre, where he stayed for 28 days. He got his children back after he sobered up, he says.
A lot of the abuse he experienced, he says, he didn’t remember until after he sobered up.
John Archie (back row, third from the right) and his teammates as soccer champions in his second year at St. Joseph's Mission. Submitted photo.
“I had flashbacks that scared the heck out of me and I was shrieking for days.”
He tried not to watch it but it was like having your back against a wall and you couldn’t go past it, he says.
His entire head, neck and jaw was always very tense with high blood pressure and doctors would give him pills but they weren’t able to deal with the root causes, he says.
He organized this past week’s Feel to Heal conference because he wants to try and heal himself and to try and help others heal. The conference featured keynote speakers such as himself, yoga, a sweat lodge, a walk and other activities. Talking about what happened is difficult for many people, says Archie.
John Archie drumming at the Feal to Heal Conference. Martina Dopf photo.
“They’re scared to hurt their family,” he says. “Until you become aware of the cycle, you can’t stop that cycle.”
Archie says he felt like a robot and couldn’t understand love or joy but that he can read people now and enjoys being around happy people. However, he still gets tense a lot, he says.
“When somebody comes through the door or rings a bell,” he tenses up. “aahhh, [when a] person comes in, aaahh.”
Now, however, he recognizes them as triggers.
“I don’t need to be scared anymore. I’m in a safe environment… It’s a past life. I’m safe now. I’m starting to understand now.”
Out of his children, there’s only one who’s drinking now, he says. He also has a few grandchildren now and says he sees an improvement.
“I heard my daughter say ‘at least we’re not like our parents where they couldn’t look after their kids,’” he says. “The lifestyle on our rez now is that the majority of our people are sober now. They’re still affected… Our children are affected lots but the grandchildren are growing up in a different environment. They have a good school to go to and a really nice daycare.”