Aboriginals across Canada on Monday marked International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day, which has occurred every September 9 since 1999.
Alcoholism is rampant among Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the U.S., as well as in Australia and New Zealand, so the issue resonates especially painfully among Natives. Recognition is held on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year so that “the world will remember that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol,” proclaims the International FASD Awareness Day website.
FASD is an umbrella term describing the array of damaging, lifelong effects that excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have on a developing fetus. Among the dangers are physical and mental symptoms, learning disabilities and behavioral issues.
“Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder affects far too many indigenous families in this country, and I fully support all efforts to improve awareness and preventative supports for all our families,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo in a statement encouraging Indigenous Peoples and all of Canada to push for support and prevention.
“FASD has far-reaching consequences for First Nation families and communities, including implications on child and family service agencies, education, justice and overall health and well-being,” he said. “This is just another reason why we must work together to heal as individuals and communities—to reconcile our pasts, and move forward with the courage and strength required to achieve healthier families and communities. We must work together to ensure our peoples are supported in efforts to increase awareness of the consequences of drinking during pregnancy, not only for individuals, but for whole communities. Not only must preventative supports be available to all, we also cannot forget the interventions required in communities for those already affected by FASD.”
In the city of Puvirnituq, Nunavik, church bells rang and a moment of silence was observed at 9:09 a.m. on September 9, the Nunatsiaq News reported. A 2011 survey by a researcher at Laval University found that 61 percent of Nunavik mothers drink during pregnancy and that alcohol consumption was a “major risk factor to maternal and child health” in the region, which is the homeland of the Inuit of Quebec, along the Hudson Bay.
Since then, public information has reduced that number greatly, especially thanks to an initiative, the Nine Months Bonding Program, which reaches out to expectant mothers and their communities to make them aware of the dangers of drinking while pregnant, the Nunatsiaq News said.
"There is no known safe level of drinking while pregnant," the U.S. National Institutes of Health said in a statement to mark the day. "Women who are, who may be, or who are trying to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol."
Here is the Alaska Native musician Morgan Fawcett talking about the dangers of drinking while pregnant, from his own perspective living with FASD.