Community organizers and Vancouver city officials are in talks over the construction of several Aboriginal healing and wellness centres to be located throughout the city.
What these centres will look like and where they will be built remains unclear, but Vancouver deputy mayor Andrea Reimer says the city is dedicated to their construction.
“We are committed to a spectrum of options being available city-wide for urban aboriginal people,” Reimer told the Straight over the phone.
For the past year, an advisory group has been gathering to discuss the project, which is mandated under the City of Reconciliation declaration, the task force for mental health and addiction, and the Downtown Eastside local area plan.
“We’ve been doing consultations for a year now with a working group that has residents, aboriginal service providers, Coastal Health, and the First Nations Health Authority,” Reimer said.
According to her, the diversity of voices that exist in the community means that there are many opinions on what potential facilities will include and where they should be located.
So far, the city has partnered with community organizations to secure the construction of two healing centres—one at the Urban Native Youth Association (1618 East Hastings Street) and the other at Lu’ma Native Housing (25 West 6th Avenue).
The UNYA location will focus on aboriginal youth and is slated to open this summer, while construction has yet to begin on the new facilities at Lu’ma.
“Both models will incorporate traditional practices,” said Reimer, adding that the new facilities will also include mainstream medical practices.
This last detail is a point of contention amongst community organizers.
Brody Williams, a First Nations activist who works in the Downtown Eastside, says these types of centres already exist. Although they’re valuable, Williams says, they aren’t what the community needs.
“We already have that at our disposal now. What we want is a holistic treatment centre,” he said.
Williams and other activists believe that a new centre should be located in the Downtown Eastside, and should be entirely devoted to the use of traditional healing practices to treat addiction.
“We want a First Nations traditional healing centre that would be First Nations owned and operated,” Williams said.
He added that talks with city officials have been dragging on for too long, and that an Aboriginal healing and wellness facility in the DTES is “long overdue.”
“Now is the time to put pressure on the powers that be and get this healing centre started,” he said.
Reimer says that the Downtown Eastside project is advancing.
“The challenge is that our partners don’t have an off-the-shelf model that they can point to. This would be a new thing that would be done, and it takes more time to figure out how you can develop something from scratch that hasn’t been done before,” she said.
In the next few weeks, city officials will be mapping areas in the Downtown Eastside where people are already using traditional healing practices.
“We don’t want to replicate or inadvertently divert resources away from things that are working well in the community,” Reimer said.