Chief Andrew Victor signs the Memorandum of Understanding alongside the canoe meant to represent the partnership's path forward together.
No one in BC has ever died while using substances at an overdose prevention site (OPS). These sites ensure people can use safely and receive medical care and emotional support in case of a toxic drug event. Many people throughout BC are affected by the toxic drug crisis and work is being done to provide better, safer access to help mitigate this rising concern within Indigenous communities.
Xwchíyò:m (Cheam First Nation) is leading the work to open a new overdose prevention site and has partnered with Fraser Health and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) to open BC's first and Canada's second OPS on reserve land. Though other services in BC incorporate cultural approaches, the Cheam OPS will be the first led by a First Nations community to address an unmet need in the Fraser Valley.
On April 21, 2022, Dr. Victoria Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fraser Health, and Richard Jock, Chief Executive Officer of the FNHA, joined Chief Andrew Victor from Cheam First Nation in ceremony where each signed the Memorandum of Understanding, which outlines the details of the partnership and the services provided at the OPS.
FNHA Chief Executive Officer Richard Jock (left), President and Chief Executive Officer of Fraser Health Victoria Lee, and Chief Andrew Victor of Cheam First Nation participate during the ceremony at the Memorandum of Understanding event on April 21, 2022.
The Cheam OPS will include both an indoor area and an outdoor inhalation space with plans to add a mobile outreach component. It will serve Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living on Cheam and will be open to people from any area including neighboring Nations and adjacent communities including Chilliwack, Agassiz and Rosedale.
"The heart-wrenching impact of the toxic drug crisis on our people, families and communities requires a radical, multi-pronged response," says Cheam Chief Andrew Victor. “Our strategies must evolve to reduce harm and further deaths. In addition to providing access to harm reduction supplies and services, treatment options, counselling options and traditional wellness, Cheam is opening this Overdose Prevention Site with the desired outcome to protect loved ones in higher-risk behaviour, including drug checking for fentanyl. We are committed to taking action with love and care for our loved ones. Increasing our options provides us with more opportunities to save lives."
Cheam First Nation has been intentional in choosing an easily accessible central location for the OPS. Support staff will follow First Nations protocols and beliefs that each person is not only seen but is also treated with dignity and respect so they feel a sense of belonging. This will ensure those using the facility are recognized and supported by their community.
“This partnership between Cheam First Nation, Fraser Health Authority and the FNHA will create a space for an innovative harm reduction approach that aligns with our joint commitment to people-centred, compassionate services," says Michelle DeGroot, Vice President, Regional Operations (Fraser Salish Region) for the FNHA.
“Cheam is leading this opportunity to provide unrestricted access to a culturally safe and welcoming environment where services are in reach for those who use substances and includes a bridge to the services provided by the FNHA in the Fraser Salish Region."
Set to open in the fall of 2022, the OPS will provide an inclusive environment where staff trained in trauma-informed practices will support people who want to have their substance use supervised.
“We are honoured to be a part of this first-of-its-kind in BC collaboration with Cheam First Nation and the FNHA. Through our combined efforts, we will deliver much-needed overdose prevention and harm reductions supports to the community, helping save more lives," says Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO, Fraser Health.
This will be one of the first overdose prevention sites in BC combining indoor, outdoor and mobile components all aimed at reducing harms associated with substance use while also embracing a wholistic First Nations, strengths-based and people-centred approach.
Culture, teachings, community and connections to the land and to others will be woven into conventional harm reduction activities. The site will also offer harm reduction supplies and education, drug checking, take home naloxone kits and training on how to use them. As we've seen in the past few years, these types of supports have saved many lives.