Participants of the Okanagan Nation Purple Ribbon Campaign march over the William R. Bennett Bridge from Westbank First Nation to Kelowna’s City Park on Aug. 28, 2019, in support of International Overdose Awareness Day. (David Venn - Kelowna Capital News)

Communities must unite to solve opioid crisis: Okanagan Indigenous leaders

Indigenous activists march bridge for overdose awareness week

The message from some of the Okanagan’s most prominent Indigenous community leaders is that social cohesion is the way forward to beating the opioid crisis.

Members from Westbank First Nation, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, Métis Community Services joined the Okanagan Nation Alliance on Aug. 28 to march across the William R. Bennett bridge from Westbank to Kelowna’s City Park as part of their two-day Purple Ribbon Campaign ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

“There’s more Indigenous people dying (from overdoses) than the rest of the population,” executive director of Kelowna’s Métis Community Services Kelly L’Hirondelle said. “That’s the plain way to say it.”

L’Hirondelle, spoke upon the importance of bringing awareness of the social services and support available to Indigenous people, as well as the fact that a lot more needs to be done.

For example, he shared a story of a 12-year-old girl who saved her parents from an overdose because she knew how to properly use a naloxone kit.

READ MORE: Province invests $2.7 million in Indigenous teacher education training

READ MORE: First Nations people in BC four times more likely to die of an overdose

“A simple thing like that, just learning how to do that can save lives,” L’Hirondelle said, noting support groups and spiritual, traditional ceremonies with elders and cultural significance can help remedy individuals and communities who are suffering from the epidemic.

L’Hirondelle said he hoped that with events such as these, it can harness a greater sense of inclusion and familiarity between institutions moving forward.

“We are all family… we carry the sorrow,” Westbank First Nation Chief Roxanne Lindley said as a group of 40 campaigners stood in a sacred circle.

The Indigenous opioid-related death rate has increased 21 per cent from 2017 to 2018 and 12.9 per cent of provincial overdose-related deaths were attributed to First Nations people, according to the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

To address the growing mortality rate, FNHA began a four-pillar framework for action, which includes providing naxolone training for almost 2,500 people in more than 175 First Nations communities; training more than 180 harm-reduction specialists; investing $40 million into service infrastructure to better support the community; conducting intensive case management for 662 individuals and helping people on their journey to recovery.



David Venn
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
Email me at david.venn@kelownacapnews.com
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