By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 5, 2024.
Gathering for their first session of 2024, members of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs heard from staff of the Indigenous Recovery Coach Program (Aapai’tsi’taappii’saam) on Thursday afternoon in the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization atrium.
The urban community-based recovery program aims to address the ongoing opioid crisis using compassion and Indigenous, culturally based teachings.
Program director Jacen Abrey – known for helping to establish Bringing Home the Spirit Recovery Centre in Standoff -minced no words when he stated early in the presentation, “The city has a misconception of harm reduction. Harm reduction is saving lives.”
Joined by his co-workers Denille Tizzard and Samantha Scout, Abrey explained, “it’s not providing a safe place for somebody to do drugs, it’s providing a place where we can save their life-giving them the tools to get into a detox, to get them into a recovery centre, to provide some employment when they’re done their treatment.”
The organization, funded by the federal government through the Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples (UPIP) initiative, was established in 2018 and is host to services that employ traditional Indigenous practices as a support to recovery.
Though the facilities are in Lethbridge, IRC is inclusive of all forms of indigeneity, as the city is home to Indigenous people from other nations in addition to the Blackfoot community. While the programs and services offered based on traditional Indigenous practices, many of their services offered are open to all.
Among the services offered by IRC are peer supports and mentorship, culturally based wellness activities such as smudging, beading, and traditional face painting, daily on-site events, an eight week day-treatment program, and direct connection to knowledge keepers and Elders.
In addition to the on-site supports, IRC staff participate in daily walks around the hot spots of the city to enhance community outreach and distribute necessities such as Narcan.
Abrey stated very clearly in the presentation IRC does not distribute needles, instead nasally administered Narcan which can save a life in the event of an overdose and poses little risk to those not using opioids.
Scout and Tizzard explained that though the programs receive some funding, the organization is always looking for donations both monetarily and in the form of goods such as snacks, hygiene products, towels, and water bottles or hand warmers-depending on the time of year.
Working in connection with other services throughout the city such as Streets Alive Mission and the Lethbridge Food Bank, the Indigenous Recovery Coach Program is one of the many organizations trying to combat the opioid crisis.
Above that though, Abrey says it’s about reconciliation.
“If you want to play a part in reconciliation, that’s what we are. Reconciliation is every day. It’s not Sept. 30, it’s 365 days a year where we can provide servicesâ€¦ it’s about each and every day making sure the community understands.”