Theme: Social Science & Policy Research Year: 2019
Background: This study captures the experiences and wisdom of a group of Indigenous women from
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) in the development of a culture- and land-based,
intervention/wellness program for urban Indigenous women which includes strategies for identifying
the cause and prevention of substance use, infectious diseases such as HCV/HIV, as well as chronic
diseases prevalent amongst those living in the DTES.
Methods: Four iterations of Elder-led sequential sharing circles, a cultural activity day, and a landbased retreat – all grounded in culture and ceremony – were held with 23 Indigenous women who
reside in the DTES. Data collection and analyses were guided by Indigenous research methodologies
that ensured a safe space for the women to share their experiences. In total, 18 sequential
sharing/research circles were conducted with each hosting up to 8 women.
Results: Indigenous cultural practices and ceremonies, families and meaningful relationships, and
the creation of safe spaces for Indigenous women are paramount in order for them to address
substance use issues. Cultural and land-based practices show powerful and beneficial promise for
Indigenous women in the DTES on their journey to wellness.
Conclusion: The underlying impacts of the intersection of colonialism, systemic racism and gender
significantly affect their lived realities. These findings reveal the importance of resilience and
determination to lead and direct cultural-based intervention and harm reduction programming for
urban Indigenous women. Such programming and intervention can effectively assist the women to
achieve and maintain wellness in a high-risk environment.
Disclosure of Interest Statement: This research project was supported with grants awarded by the
Canadian Institute of Health Research.