SUBMITTED PHOTOS The two-day event took place at Port Hardy Civic Centre with eight workshops, four keynote speeches and a ceremony at Kwakiutl First Nation’s Big House.

‘Culture is Harm Reduction’: keynote speaker says at recent conference hosted by SWFC

For many attendees, the event was an eye-opener to Indigenous ways of healing.

Over 70 people from across B.C. attended Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre’s harm reduction conference on March 6-7, having listened to keynote speakers and seven facilitators who talked about ways to reduce barriers in accessing local harm reduction services. Much of what was discussed tied in First Nation culture as an integral, much-needed pathway to healing and harm reduction.

“I was amazed what a positive event it was,” Garth Holden, interim president of the centre’s board of directors, said. “The overwhelming community support – it was originally intended for frontline workers and service providers, but we had such a huge interest from the general public that we opened it up. Moving forward we are really hoping to do a similar event next year.”

“I think we learned a lot of lessons this year,” he noted, having said that this is the first event of its kind on the North Island. “With that said, it was a major success. I have had folks reaching out to the presenters, being able to make those connections. It looks like it will turn into really interesting things within the community. And that is what this kind of conference is about – bringing folks together, exchanging ideas and letting that exchange turn into new service programming and opportunities for the community.”

He also mentioned that a lot of service providers from many health organizations were often connecting with each other during intermissions.

The two-day event took place at Port Hardy Civic Centre with eight workshops, four keynote speeches and a ceremony at Kwakiutl First Nation’s Big House. For many attendees, the event was an eye-opener to Indigenous ways of healing, which is integral to harm reduction services for many First Nation communities.

Holden anticipates that, depending on funding, the centre may put on a similar conference sometime in the new year. “The feedback we’ve gotten from people about the presenters and about the content has been really affirming. A lot of folks came knowing what harm reduction was, but there were a lot of folks that came with very little understanding,” he continued, “We shared some ideas. We opened some hearts and minds. They’re not out there on their own. It’s really huge work, it’s difficult. We’re meeting people (clients) where they’re at and we’re supporting them as well as we can. From those relationships come opportunities for change. Everyone deserves support and everybody deserves to live as inclusively in the community as possible.”

Annita McPhee, who is a professional speaker, discussed lateral violence within the workplace and ways in which organizations can address it. Dr. Rif Kamil, a psychiatrist with strong connections to our local First Nation communities, also spoke on how intimately tied Indigenous culture is in addressing harm reduction.

Dr. Bernie Paulie spoke on a managed alcohol program and how they worked so far across Canada. Other speakers, like Ivan Voyageur, who’s worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for over two decades, noted that by looking through the lens of Indigenous culture both clients and service providers may understand better ways to address the growing opioid epidemic across the province.

The centre will now submit its final report in hopes of securing another grant to host a similar conference and keep the dialogue between First Nation organizations and service providers ongoing.

– Press release

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