Bicultural Organizing On Women and Addictions in B.C.

Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

A new look at addictions services for Aboriginal women is being taken in British Columbia. Although often targeted for discriminatory policies related to substance use, not much research has actually been done toward gender-specific support for those who are affected. A telephone survey helped locate First Nations women interested in gathering to discuss key concerns, and identified four priority topics:

  • how to improve access to supportive services for Aboriginal women with substance use problems;
  • how to provide and expand programming to reduce the harm associated with substance use such as healthy pregnancy, methadone prescribing, counselling, and HIV prevention and treatment;
  • how to help communities address fetal alcohol syndrome and work compassionately and effectively with mothers;
  • how to better understand and work with Aboriginal women to examine the connection between violence and substance use.

Ninety representatives of addiction service providers from on- and off-reserve alcohol and drug treatment programs met in Vancouver with Aboriginal women leaders, and health policy makers and planners for a one-day forum in March 2000. Initiated by First Nations and other health advocates, this articulation of issues affecting Aboriginal women with substance use problems looks at systemic responses to eliminate barriers to quality care and access.

A second group of 30 First Nations and other health advocates met in September in Williams Lake to define areas of action. Barbara Harris of Vancouver, a featured speaker, has completed a masters thesis about holistic and integrated services needed to meet the needs of urban Native women seeking addiction recovery.

Other First Nations health advocates involved with the Forums include Dean Dubick of Drug and Alcohol Meeting Support for Women in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, who has proposed a healing centre model, Deborah Schwartz, who has developed innovative tobacco programming for Aboriginal people, and Mary Clifford, who has pioneered a holistic approach to health at the Prince George Friendship Centre.

A report on the First Forum is available through the Women’s Health Bureau of the B.C. Ministry of Health at 250-952-2256 or 250-952-2237. Recommendations from these sessions are being posted at

Nancy Poole is a research consultant on women and substance use working with B.C. Women’s Hospital and the B.C. Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.