Health for People Who Use Drugs

Understanding cultural wellness for Indigenous people who use drugs

Canada is currently facing a drug overdose crisis. In many Indigenous communities, the crisis is driven by injection drug use, and these communities are now facing related medical complications such as HIV, HCV, abscesses, and infective endocarditis. Sociocultural determinants, including sex work, homelessness, stigma, discrimination, and disconnection from community, land, and culture are fueling the situation.

The purpose of this project is to better understand cultural wellness interventions for Indigenous people who have drug use experience. As declared in Article 24 of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines, and to maintain their health practices.

The first phase of the project was completed with participants from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, a Cree community northwest of Prince Albert. The second phase involved a community of Two-Spirit men living in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

This project is designed to build on ancestral wisdom, community knowledge and lived experience, with a focus on connections to the land; connections with the land are essential for sustaining and upholding wellness. Land-based cultural retreats are effective interventions for restoring and promoting physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Researchers employed a Two-eyed Seeing framework, where both Indigenous and Western Ways of Knowing are complementary to one another.

The project is in the data analysis phase. Upon completion of analyses, integrated knowledge translation will be conducted with the involvement of the community, providing guidance throughout all aspects of data interpretation and presentation. Research findings will inform presentations and publications designed for diverse audiences including community forums, conferences and peer-reviewed publications.

Anticipated objectives are to:

  1. Conduct wellness intervention research retreats for Indigenous people who have drug use experience;
  2. Facilitate Medicine Wheel Spirit Shadow Dance (MWSSD) during the wellness retreat and analyze the MWSSD within a Two-eyed Seeing approach;
  3. Guide land-based interventions during the wellness retreat, and analyze land-based healing activities within a Two-eyed Seeing approach;
  4. Facilitate post-integration sequential sharing circles after the wellness retreat;
  5. Compile, analyze and synthesize findings into oral and written reports which will be shared with various Indigenous people and organizations, health advocates, and researchers to better inform and refine future wellness, substance use and addiction interventions for Indigenous people.

There were six overarching themes identified across the SK and BC sites in the project’s preliminary findings:

  1. Emotional Growth – an evolving state of emotions based on a sense of trust, belonging, and valuing consistent relationships.
  2. Wellness – creating a sense of well-being, connection, balance, and a better understanding of self.
  3. Connections – Creating their own community and social family network, a potpourri of shared cultures and traditions.
  4. Reawakening of Culture – revitalizing or learning cultural teachings that have been missing in their lives.
  5. Willingness – (Un)willingness to absorb a new stimuli and benefit from it
  6. Mental Wellness and Substance Use – the impact of substance use on participation and engagement.