Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jul 2017
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2017 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Jennifer Ackerman
Page: A3


Chief says Indigenous people must be given a bigger role in addressing

With addictions rates to opioids in First Nations communities above
the national average, Isadore Day, chiefs committee chair on health at
the Assembly of First Nations, is calling on the federal government to
consider a First Nations-specific opioid strategy.

The federal government has been working on addressing Canada's opioid
crisis over the past year, but Day says Indigenous peoples have not
had a big enough role in the discussion.

"I stood firm in that the national opioid strategy shouldn't go ahead
without effective and meaningful engagement of our First Nation across
the countries. So that's what we're doing here," Day said Thursday at
the AFN annual general assembly.

Day said the goal of Thursday's strategy session is to collect
information and direction from Indigenous health experts and
leadership from across the country to inform the AFN's opioid strategy
which will then be shared with the federal government.

Carol Hopkins, executive director of the Thunderbird Partnership
Foundation - a First Nations and Inuit addictions research
organization - has been working with the AFN to explore possible
models for dealing with opioid addiction in First Nation

She spoke about early intervention programs, community-based treatment
models, the Indigenous Wellness Framework and medical marijuana as
ways to address the opioid crisis.

As part of the foundation's Indigenous Wellness Framework, Indigenous
and cultural practitioners, elders, people from communities across the
country were asked what wellness means to them. Language was
identified as an essential aspect of wellness and Hopkins said
"therefore it's critically important for prevention of addictions and
specifically opioids." Along with language, approximately 40 cultural
practices and traditions were identified as important aspects to wellness.

She said defining wellness from an Indigenous perspective and
facilitating wellness among First Nation communities will go a long
way toward combating the opioid crisis.

Social issues affecting wellness - like poverty and inadequate
education, housing, jobs and community safety - are all triggers for
addiction said Day.

"These are pressure points and these are the reasons why our people
are more easily addicted," said Day. He said these social issues stem
from colonial practices like Indian residential schools that took away
Indigenous peoples' language, culture, beliefs, families, land and

Hopkins also said harm reduction strategies - like safe injection
sites or methadone programs - are an important part of the process,
but some communities are resistant to the idea.

"We often hear communities that don't want to do anything related to
harm reduction," said Hopkins. "And the perceptions come from this
idea that somehow if we pay attention to reducing harms, that we're
just promoting the addiction. We're facilitating and enabling an addiction."

But she said a harm reduction program can actually have a very
positive impact on communities struggling with addiction if "it
engages community workers ... (and) celebrates the healing of people
who are courageous enough to get involved in treatment for the opioid

Hopkins said by doing so, it eliminates the shame, stigma and
discrimination that surrounds people with drug addictions.

Day advocated for Suboxone programs as the preferred harm reduction
strategy in First Nation communities.

"Methadone has done nothing for our people but make them more sick,"
said Day. He said Suboxone is easier on the human body.

Day said as various models are explored over the next few months, the
AFN will update the federal government, engage in discussions about
what the best approach for First Nations is and hopefully solidify a
plan going into the next fiscal year. But the AFN isn't stopping their.

"Ultimately, the bigger solution here is health authority - securing
health jurisdiction, sense of ownership in the community," said Day.
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