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Addiction-free musician serves as a role model for Nunavut youth

Daniel Monkman, a musician by trade, began drinking alcohol and taking drugs at the age of 15. He grew up in a small town close to Winnipeg called Selkirk and also lived on a Brokenhead Ojibway Nation reserve.

“It (alcohol) was like this ‘magical potion’ or something that helped me disassociate from issues that were going on in my household or at school.”

Daniel Monkman has been writing and recording music since the age of 16 while battling with his addictions.

His mom was not present much due to her busy work schedule. His father, a “residential school survivor” had anger issues that were taken out on him. As a single child, Monkman spend his adolescent years surrounded by other Indigenous youth, who were also involved with alcohol and drugs.

Living in poverty and being neglected by teachers also added to his pain and anger.

“I think a lot of my issues came from not thinking I was good enough," said the Hamilton, Ont.-based musician.

"I was the wrong person. Getting told 'you’re dirty' all the time, you begin to think you’re dirty.”

Alcohol and drugs served as an escape from all this negativity.

However, his life situation had gotten out of control when he witnessed a considerable amount of gang-related violence and his best friend died from a drug overdose. He ended up being in several “life and death” situations that eventually led him to his “awakening.”

He realized that he was “emotionally” hurting his family members with his addiction habits.

At that point he thought, “I cannot be so selfish. I’m just hurting everyone around me.”

He ultimately came to an understanding that he “really” had to work through “all” his problems and traumas.

After battling with his addictions for years, in 2014 Monkman moved to Vancouver for rehab.

The “earth shattering moment” for Monkman was when he was told to give up “all” his coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships) by the rehab centre. He needed to deal with his past traumas without masking his emotions through life-threatening addictions.

Free at last by defeating addictions

After several months of rehab and a few relapses, Monkman succeeded at beating his addictions.

For the past four years, the 28-year-old musician has been addiction-free.

This year, working with organizations such as Taking it Global and Connected North, Monkman has found time to serve as a role model for youth in Nunavut. In April 2019, over video, Monkman talked about his addiction as well other mental health related issues to students at Paatsaali school in Sanikiluaq.

He hopes to get in a couple more sessions with the youth before the end of this year.

Monkman also wants to visit Nunavut to play his music and speak to the youth.

“I want to do a tour of the reserves and go to the different schools and talk about my story.”

When it comes to addiction, he encourages Indigenous people to not be ashamed of who they are.

“A lot of my problems came from me no being able to accept who I was.”

He believes it is important to hear cultural stories and to “try to remember that our culture is very cool.”

“True happiness is inside our culture and preserving it within inside ourselves.”

“As soon as I accepted who I was and got my culture back, true healing happened.”

Monkman also emphasized the importance of asking for help.

“Humility saved my life. Asking for help saved my life.”

“A big problem throughout my addiction was, I was never” able to surrender and show humility and ask for help. I kept trying to think that I could do it all myself and stay in control.”

According to Monkman, community support and talking about the addiction is necessary.

By addressing your addiction, you are “opening up to a second opinion.” It is a way to get outside your own head and an opportunity to learn something new, he explained.

Monkman, who has been writing music since 16, recently signed a record deal with Paper Bag Records for his band's new album, Bleached Wavves.