Stamsh Slhanay Llhwat – Warrior Women Healing

Culture and ceremony: prevention and healing for Indigenous women.

This study explores the experiences and wisdom of a group of Indigenous women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) in the development of a culture- and land-based, intervention/wellness program for urban Indigenous women which includes strategies for identifying the cause and prevention of substance use, infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C (HCV), as well as chronic diseases prevalent amongst those living in the DTES.

Four iterations of Elder-led sequential sharing circles, a cultural activity day, and a land-based retreat – all grounded in culture and ceremony – were held with 23 Indigenous women who reside in the DTES over eight months. Data collection and analyses were guided by Indigenous research methodologies that ensured a safe space for the women to share their experiences. In total, 18 sequential sharing/research circles were conducted with each hosting up to eight women.

The Warrior Women Healing Study outlines the following objectives:

  1. The use of Indigenous methodologies to develop land-based healing strategies for wellness and disease prevention in urban settings,
  2. Have Indigenous women in urban areas connect with the land, learn about, teach and participate in Indigenous traditional healing activities,
  3. Ensure that Indigenous women’s voices are heard through their involvement in the development of a strategy for Indigenous healing and land-based strategies within urban settings for wellness and prevention of infectious diseases such as HIV, HCV, and other chronic diseases.

Barriers to achieving wellness were also identified by the women including:

  • On-going stigma and abandonment associated with HIV hindered the women’s’ efforts in maintaining wellness.
  • Women’s voices were not heard when discussing health issues; the root of health problems were overlooked. ie: impact of residential schools, foster care, and adoption.
  • No cultural component in medical clinics (to provide a wholistic approach to healing& wellness).
  • No real connection to Indigenous culture/ loss of cultural identity.
  • Substance use.

Through the experiences and voices of the women who participated in the study, several recommendations were identified in building a strategy for wellness in the DTES.

  • Safe, low barrier cultural activities, ceremonies in the DTES, through a network of spiritual Elders and cultural resources.
  • Indigenous models of support for families, couples counselling, and trauma-based interventions.
  • Indigenous arts and craft programming for children to foster awareness and involvement of culture from an early age.
  • Etuaptmumk (Two-eyed Seeing) approach to medical models of care: ie more indigenous doctors, nurses, Elders, and counsellors within mainstream western care.
  • Indigenous-led substance use intervention programs for women in DTES.
  • Indigenous foster homes for Indigenous children to prevent alienation from culture.
  • Healthy food made available for women who are homeless or on fixed income.

For more information, contact:

Nicole Smith –

Sadeem Fayed –