Elder Alvin Manitopyes currently resides in Calgary, Alberta but he grew up on Muskowekwan First Nation which is about 65 miles north of Regina, Saskatchewan. Muskowekwan First Nation is a small Anishinaabe community that is sometimes called Saulteaux. This interview took place on July 20, 2021 via Zoom.
1. Can you tell me about cannabis in your community? Do you think many people use it and what impact it has had from your perspective?
You know cannabis, it really was an underground drug until it became legal. It was mostly the young people that were using it back in the 70s. It wasn’t really out in the open, it was mostly just the young people when they would get together.
2. When did you first learn about cannabis? How was it viewed when you were a youth? Negative? Positive?
I was 12 years old when I came across cannabis, it was back in 1968, that’s when they had the hippie movement. The peace and love movement of the late 1960s, so it was part of that scene and that’s when I started using cannabis. Yes, it was used, although it was illegal at the time, a lot of people used it as the soft drug to feel good, and to get high and all that. They mixed it in with the music, that was the scene in those days.
3. Has the attitudes toward cannabis in your community changed since you were a youth? Was it a rapid change (over a couple years) or did the changes in attitude take longer?
Before older people totally rejected it as a drug, they didn’t want it in the community, they told the young people to stay away from it, that it was illegal. Many of them still have that same perspective, they don’t totally accept it. So, it was a longer change.
4. Do you think cannabis is part of First Nations culture? Are there any teachings that can be applied to cannabis use?
For one thing, cannabis is not part of our ceremonies, never has been and the Elders do not use it in our ceremonies, so that is the protocol. But some Elders, who are also traditional Elder, ceremonious, use cannabis because they recognize the benefits it brings to one’s health, it helps to calm the mind, it helps to heal, personality issues, and it helps with sleep disorders, and it also helps with pain management, so they use it as a supplement, but it is not a traditional medicine.
5. Do you know anything about how cannabis was first introduced to your community or Turtle Island/North America as a whole?
Well, it has always been here, cannabis and hemp has been on every continent around the world. It grew in certain parts of Turtle Island; it was used by certain tribes. They used it to make mats, like carpets that were woven.
6. Do you have any advice for a young person that has started using cannabis?
Well, I think they need to understand what, you know the more research you do on cannabis is pretty fascinating, and there is a lot to learn from the plant, it has lots to teach us as well. Then they have to decide, okay, am I going to use this for recreational use to get high and go party with my friends, or am I going to use it for my own health, for my mind. So, it all comes down to the intent, what are you going to use it for? And then they have to decide for themselves.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Our Indian medicine, the way we pick it in our traditional ways, are much more potent than the ones you buy at the natural health food store. We believe that our plants are very, very powerful, and sacred, so when you believe that way it’ll be more able to heal you. So, I believe that once we start growing more cannabis, more communities and individuals on reserves are starting, so once you start doing it in the traditional manner plants are going to become much more potent, and they also use organic soil that brings out the best medicinal properties which are the best for healing. I like to encourage young people that it is our own right, our inherent Indigenous right to grow and harvest medicines, and that includes cannabis.
“Then they [youth] have to decide, okay, am I going to use this for recreational use to get high and go party with my friends, or am I going to use it for my own health, for my mind. So, it all comes down to the intent, what are you going to use it for?”
“I like to encourage young people that it is our own right, our inherent Indigenous right to grow and harvest medicines, and that includes cannabis.”