Improving Support for Indigenous Participants

Improving Support for Indigenous Participants

This spring, we are proud to be re-launching our Indigenous Health & Safety Program (IHSP) at WISH. The IHSP is a recurring six-month-long program that runs twice a year and is one of three streams that WISH’s Indigenous Health and Safety focuses on: Indigenous Drop-In; Indigenous In-Reach Services and; and IHSP.

The program offers cultural healing that centres participants’ mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. It uplifts participants’ lived experience, knowledge, and expertise. It also provides culturally-safe one-on-one support, connecting participants with other services at WISH such as the shelter, Supportive Employment Program, Music Therapy, and Learning Centre.

Pictured in the middle, Matriarchs Carleen Thomas from Tsleil-Waututh
Nation, Clarissa Antone from Squamish Nation, and Mary Point from Musqueam
Nation, join WISH on the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, offering
blessings to continue doing our work on their lands.

IHSP also supports participants when navigating systems like housing, child welfare, health, and substance misuse services.

The program is trauma-informed, which means it addresses the specific realities and trauma of survival sex work, while affirming participants’ inherent right to dignity and self-determination, wherever they are in their journey.

Through reclamation of traditional healing, alongside culturally-safe support and advocacy, the program addresses the impacts of daily colonial violence on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of Indigenous participants. It is a space to reclaim community care, self-love, joy, creativity, and self-determination.

The history of IHSP

IHSP has a long history of working with Indigenous sex workers in the DTES. Starting in 2008, Around the Kitchen Table was an Indigenous-led program with a two-fold goal: 1) To gain knowledge of cultural identity and; 2) Share their skills and knowledge by serving as Peer assistants for both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous sex workers.

By 2013, the then-named Aboriginal Culture & Creativity Program expanded its services and re-established under the then-named Aboriginal Health & Safety Program (AHSP). The program was offered two days per week with the intent of creating safety and health opportunities for street-based sex workers. Since then, the program has had more than 180 Indigenous participants.

But this came to a halt in March 2020. Due to COVID-19 and the ongoing opioid crisis, IHSP had to change and focus on outreach services. However, WISH took this opportunity to engage as many participants as possible in conversations and focus groups to redesign the program to best meet the needs of Indigenous street-based sex workers.

The re-design and re-launch of the program began with the creation of a Manager of Indigenous Inclusion position and the creation of two additional positions: An Indigenous In-Reach worker and an IHSP Supervisor. The reopening of the classroom will allow for a re-envisioning of what programming looks like when it is grounded in ceremony, supporting participants to reclaim connection to culture, land, and language.

Delivered by Indigenous staff, Elders, and peers, IHSP will focus on offering a space to reclaim community care, self-love, joy, creativity, and self-determination.