Kímmapiiyipitssini The Meaning of Empathy is the name of a documentary film we saw last night that tells the story of the opioid crisis ravaging the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. The film was made by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers a young woman who comes from a Kainai community.
Kímmapiiyipitssini is the word for a Blackfoot teaching that says empathy and kindness are the keys to survival. And no one embodies that empathy and kindness more than Esther Tailfeathers who is a doctor on the Kainai First Nation. She is at the very heart of the film and will stop at nothing to help people deal with their deadly addictions. Her aim is to reduce harm to addicts in whatever way she can.
Esther listens to people tell their stories of addiction without any trace of judgment. She is literally empathy and kindness personified. Esther always remains encouraging and positive with her patients.
She collaborates with others in the community to train people to use naloxone kits. Naloxone is an antidote for fentanyl overdoses. Next, she introduces opioid replacement therapy despite the community’s resistance. Then Dr. Tailfeathers is instrumental in building a detox center that houses and supports a steady stream of addicts. In the film, we are given a window into the lives of some of these addicts who share their stories openly and honestly.
Image from the movie’s Facebook page.
I admired Esther Tailfeathers and the way she could connect with seniors living with the effects of their years at residential school, middle-aged folks who’d had traumatic experiences in foster homes as children, new mothers trying to kick their habit to get their babies back, and young men who had succumbed to peer pressure and started using drugs.
I admit that the in-depth look at the opioid epidemic in the film gave me a pretty bleak view of the chances for a healthy future for the Kainai First Nation but……. I was also left with a sliver of hope because with an amazing woman like Dr. Esther Tailfeathers as their champion a more positive outcome does seem possible for the Kainai.