A message from FNHA Four Directions Team
The Sober for October Wellness Challenge asks those of us who drink alcohol or use other substances to consider the role these substances play in our lives – and to think about where we might want to make changes. While doing the challenge, many people have found that small changes can have big impacts on wholistic wellness.
Relationships with substance use are unique and personal for every individual. This could be culturally, through the use of traditional tobacco or medicinally used for coping with chronic pain. These could also range from limited or occasional use, recreational use, to addictive/problematic use that can led to a loss of control. This loss of control over substances can harm our health and strain or damage our relationships with family, friends and in our places of work.
For those looking for support with respect to their substance use, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has developed a tool called All Paths Lead to Wellness that provides a description of the range of substance-use supports available while also recognizing the diverse needs of individuals.
This tool ensures that everyone has the opportunity to access supports that will meet them where they're at on their healing journey. An important aspect of this support pathway is the Indigenous harm-reduction approach, which integrates cultural knowledge, values, and ways of being into the strategies and services associated with harm reduction. This can include a range of supports from safer and managed use of substances, to eliminating those substances completely.
At the core of Indigenous harm reduction is the connection to spirituality, the natural environment, and other people. Many BC First Nations communities and organizations continue to integrate Indigenous harm-reduction programs and practices into their range of supports and healing to provide culturally safe support for people who use substances.
One example is Hamiksila'sas Anise, or Auntie's Kitchen, a food truck that offers meals to community members at no cost as a means of community connection and building relationships. An initiative developed by Kwakiutl First Nation on Northern Vancouver Island, the goal of Auntie's Kitchen is to reach out and reduce the stigma and isolation that can have deadly consequences for those who use substances,
“Food is medicine, especially in the context of reducing isolation and creating community," says Maureen Schat, an Addiction and Recovery Worker with Kwakiutl First Nation.
An important aspect of Auntie's Kitchen is the connection to the land through traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, gardening, and gathering of local foods and medicines. These activities are open to all community members.
Leaders of traditional fishing and harvesting groups, which include Traditional Knowledge Keepers as well as people with lived and living experience of substance use, are offered an honoraria for their work, and in turn donate ocean and land harvests to Auntie's Kitchen. This not only supports the functioning of the food truck, but also provides a means of healing through culture and connection to the land and community.
Auntie's Kitchen demonstrates the strength, love and healing that community members can provide to one another, as well as the importance of connection and meeting people where they're at on their journey. This is especially impactful because one of the biggest harms still associated with substance use is stigma.
Stigma can manifest in our lives in different ways, whether it be internalized stigma that prevents us from seeking help or hiding substance use, or the judgments and beliefs directed towards people who use substances, which can lead to isolation and further disconnection from friends, family, community and most importantly, oneself.
No matter where we may be at on our health and wellness journey, it's important to be gentle and kind to ourselves and others as we each continue our unique pathways towards healing.
If you are someone who feels that their substance use is a problem and that you need professional support, help is available through the First Nations Virtual Substance Use and Psychiatry Service.
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We are here to support you in your journey. The FNHA's Four Directions Team is an interdisciplinary team that includes an Indigenous Wellness Educator, Nursing Practice Consultants, Pharmacists, and others who support wise practices in mental health, substance use, harm-reduction practice and programming, informed by our commitment to reconciliation. To contact us, please email: 4Directions@fnha.ca