Reframing Indigenous Harm Reduction Ideologies to Heal Indigenous Spirit


​A personal reflection for International Overdose Awareness Day


Location of self

I introduce myself ceremonially as qweyz qwaz kinknap (Blue Thunder). My English name is Sean O'Donaghey and I am an addictions specialist at the FNHA. My journey has meandered through life for 55 years on Mother Earth, mostly in the Vancouver Coastal urban setting. Like most Indigenous people, I have experienced many hardships and traumas that were passed on intergenerationally, affecting my wholistic wellbeing. Throughout my journey, I have witnessed many Indigenous people also struggle to move forward in a healthy way because of the impacts of trauma. Many of our relatives have opted for a more medicated substance use pathway and unfortunately some have not survived. 

A new take on medicine

As much as we detest the pain that substances may cause families, for some it is viewed as medicine for our loved ones. At the FNHA we are striving to meet people where they are at without judgment and stigma. We look to a future where there are more overdose prevention sites and episodic overdose prevention sites. We are educating nurses, implementing opioid agonist therapy in communities and educating Indigenous people about harm reduction approaches that save lives. At the end of the day, we just want to help people continue to live because the loss of Indigenous lives has been staggering. These are our relatives we're talking about, and they need love and support. 

Indigenous approaches to wholistic wellness

Today I share what I know. Over 29 years ago, I was suffering in trauma. I used many substances and was a complete mess. A good friend of mine came to me and offered to bring me to ceremony. That ceremony was a Sundance. After my first introduction to Sundance I still used substances and the following year my good friend came and brought me to the Sundance ceremony again. It was after that second ceremony that my healing journey solidified and I told my friend not to pick me up the next year, because I would make my own way. 

Ever since that beginning I have become a ceremonial person. I help at Sundance, pour sweat lodge ceremonies and sing ceremonial songs. My journey on the Red Road is where I have learned and practiced the seven sacred principles that are as follows: respect, humility, honesty, courage, fortitude, wisdom and generosity. It is because of these principles that I have conducted ceremony on Hastings Street in the downtown eastside. I have done memorials, pipe ceremonies and taught singing to Indigenous brothers and sisters who are on a hard path. Everything that I have used has a spirit, whether it is a pipe, drum, sage, cedar, sweetgrass or many other ceremonial items. They all help facilitate healing of the human spirit. 

Simply put, I don't turn anyone away, especially the ones who are using substances, because they need it the most. If a person wants to participate or be around ceremony and are courageous enough to ask, I let them. 

I conclude that we must respect all living things on my earth, which includes our relatives. We must meet them with humility and not judge them. We must practise wisdom by using a two-eyed seeing approach when walking with them. We must be courageous and have fortitude and not be afraid to carry out this work. We must also be honest and lastly practise the principle of generosity, because we have the best welfare system in the world, we share. We must love and help our people because it's not their fault. 

All My Relations​

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