Q & A with Marnie Scow, FNHA's Indigenous Peer Outreach Worker, about treating all people with respect, including people who use substances
As a response to the overdose crisis and the call for engaging people with lived and living experience, in November 2018, FNHA created two Indigenous Peer Coordinator positions in the Vancouver Coastal Region. Marnie Scow is the first Indigenous Peer Coordinator hired at FNHA. She is from Tsakis Village of the Kwakiutl Band and Kwakwaka'wakw Nation on Vancouver Island. Marnie has a background in Criminology/Restorative Justice and identifies as a person with lived experience. She has a professional background in harm reduction, Housing First and addiction services.
What does being an FNHA Indigenous Peer Outreach Worker mean to you?
This position has allowed me to get my foot back in the door after a life-altering relapse in 2016, where I was no longer able to go back to my old job. This job has given me an opportunity to work and be a part of the Downtown East Side (DTES) community and it allows me to be a safe person in the lives of several young Indigenous women who are currently growing up in foster care and who are residing in the DTES.
How do you define the term 'peer'? What does it mean to you?
A peer is a paid or unpaid position for a person with lived and/or living experience with substance use, mental health concerns, and experience with the criminal justice system. Quite often, the term 'peer' takes away the choice for disclosure around the person's story—the term 'peer' outs people that are using substances.
What is your background in peer work?
I was first unknowingly introduced to peer work back in 2006 while incarcerated, through a peer research team that was facilitated by Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin. I've had my hand in many other 'peer work cookie jars' throughout the years and have been doing this work long before I even knew what it was called—since I was a teenager. I've done this work while living in active addiction, as well as through maintaining abstinence, and it is important for others to understand that an individual does not have to be abstinent to do this work in a good way.
Can you share some of the work you have been involved in?
Connecting folks from the DTES to resources or helping them navigate the health care system, such as getting on injectable opioid agonist therapy ( iOAT) or methadone, or bringing them to appointments. I've also been blessed to be given many opportunities for facilitation and education around Indigenous harm reduction, through working with the Indigenous Wellness team at FNHA. My passion is working with people who are actively using substances and I think everyone has the right to be treated like a human being. Just because someone is actively using, it doesn't mean they have fewer rights or deserve less respect.
What are the highlights of your role?
There are so many I can choose from! I can definitely say, a highlight was travelling to Minnesota with Andrea Medley to be the first Canadians to present at the White Earth Indigenous Harm Reduction Conference, which is the only Indigenous Harm Reduction conference in North America.
How has culture impacted your life, and your work as a peer?
I maintained over seven years of sobriety without culture playing much of a role in my life but I spent most of those seven years stressed out, ridden with anxiety, and doing things to feed my ego. This time, I've been sober for 2.5 years, with culture being at the centre of my life and my recovery, and I've lived a quality of life that is 100 times greater than I ever could have imagined. The statement is true: culture really does saves lives. Part of my job is speaking my truth, getting rid of the lie that you must be abstinent to engage in and have culture in your life.
The more that I learn about my culture, the more I am able to pass on and educate others that culture is a form of harm reduction. Through this position, I've worked closely with Culture Saves Lives, and often you can find us drumming and singing for the people in the DTES. We have a saying: if you bring the drum, the people will come. [laughter]