We want an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre…. Now!: By Jean Swanson
Many members of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Committee are calling for the City and Vancouver Coastal Health to build an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), and to do it quickly. The Downtown East talked to Tracey Morrison and Victoria Bull, Committee members who first brought up this idea, about why they want this centre in the DTES.
Tracey is president of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS). “Downtown Eastside residents need a place to heal and have well-being,” explained Tracy. “It needs to be in the DTES where residents feel comfortable. When people who use illicit drugs and alcohol come to ‘the moment’ of wanting to not use there is a very short window when they will accept help. It could be a second to a day. We should be able to go somewhere fast. We also need a place where you can be comfortable with the knowledge, traditions and culture of our people, and where you don’t necessarily have to be Aboriginal. Look at our Healing Circle: red, white, black, and yellow. We are all the Creator’s children. We all belong, but we want a Centre that’s run by Aboriginal people, not bureaucrats. There should be peer-run programs and intergenerational programs. We need intergenerational housing on top of the Healing Centre.”
Victoria is on the board of the Strathcona Community Centre and is a member-at-large representing low-income people on the Local Area Planning Committee. “With an Aboriginal Healing Centre we could have elders involved with the younger generation,” said Victoria. “Many elders have been on a healing journey for a long time. We could have story telling and people could learn about our history.”
“What happens now is that people are sent to treatment centres. When they finish they come back and there’s no support and it throws them back to the streets and their old addictive behavior. An Aboriginal Healing Centre would provide a sense of belonging to address past traumatic issues. It could have a healing lodge with smudging and sage and a Council of Elders who could be available at the spur of the moment for people in crisis. It could be like it is at St. Paul’s Hospital where there are two Aboriginal ladies who do the ceremonies in the room when someone is ready to pass on.”
“I really think the Healing Centre should be open to everyone: an All Nations Healing Lodge. Sometimes the Western medicine can be really hurtful.”
Vancouver Coastal Health owns a piece of property on Hastings and Gore, right across from First United Mission. That would be a good place for the Lodge. Or, the city could buy the site at 138 E. Hastings and save it from the current condo proposal there. Those are two potential sites for the Healing Centre that low income members of the LAP committee have discussed. While many people on the committee support the idea of a Centre, it is not in the City’s Draft Plan for the Downtown Eastside.
If you think it’s important to have an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre in the DTES, be sure to come to city council on March 12 to tell City Council what you think. For help getting on the agenda, call CCAP at 604 729 2380.