Aboriginal Health & Safety

Indigenous women are over-represented in street-based sex work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: more than 50 percent of WISH participants are Indigenous, and many have experienced severe trauma related to colonization, residential schools, and ongoing racism and discrimination.

The Aboriginal Health & Safety Program (AHSP) is a culturally-relevant response to this, helping Indigenous women involved in the sex trade reclaim their culture. They do this by connecting to each other, participating in cultural crafts and activities, learning new skills related to Indigenous traditions and experiencing sisterhood with each other.

AHSP is a program that covers several areas, Arts and creativity ( storytelling, teachings, regalia making and First Nations song and dance and art, Health Issues: Health and wellness workshops, Personal healing ( Smudging, sweat lodge, self-care products, prayer ties, offerings, Health and Safety/ Life skills ( boundary setting, personal values, Facilitation skills, coping skills, Affirmations, Adventure and Monthly outings). The AHSP will also host some events that allow the participants to create, lead and develop leadership skills.

“It begins with women…who carry on traditions, and help one another to heal from addictions, homelessness and so on.”


The program focuses on three streams:

1: Indigenous Evenings or Mornings in the Drop-In: Drumming, beading and dream-catcher making are offered during a weekly evening or morning at the WISH Drop-In Centre, open to all WISH participants.

2: Individualised Support: The Aboriginal Health & Safety Program Coordinator, an Indigenous woman, offers culturally-safe support for a diversity of Indigenous participants. She builds trust with Indigenous women who have experienced trauma related to colonization, the residential school system, the foster care system, and systemic discrimination in addition to the violence they face on the streets. Women can connect with her at the WISH Drop-In Centre or make an appointment outside of these times.

3: Aboriginal Culture & Creativity: 8-10 women meet twice weekly, for six months, to engage in hands-on traditional art activities, learn cultural practices and participate in health and wellness themed workshops. Women in this program also go on culturally-relevant outings to places such as Vancouver Public Library, the Museum of Anthropology and Kla-How-Ya Village. Once a month, the group participates in street outreach, assembling and distributing goody bags to their sisters on the streets, and encouraging others to learn more about the Aboriginal Health & Safety Program.

There are two, six-month cycles of the program per year, and a graduation ceremony is held for each.

Generously funded by:
Province of BC (Gaming)
Province of BC (Civil Forfeiture)
Vancouver Coastal Health
Government of Canada (Department of Justice)

What's Happening

Groups meet on:

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12pm-2:30pm in the Aboriginal Health and Safety Room at 334 Alexander Street

$10 stipend per group session attended

Membership Criteria:

  • Self-identified woman, self-identified sex worker (past or present)
  • Self-identified Indigenous descent
  • Able to commit to a 6-month program, 5 hours per week

Program Partners:

  • Saau-st Centre
  • Vancouver Public Library
  • Aboriginal Wellness Program
  • VPD Sex Trade Liaison
  • Community Elders
  • Native Court Workers and Counselling Association of BC
  • Indigenous Community Law Clinic
  • Anderson Lodge
  • Culture is Healing
  • Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre
  • Aboriginal Mothers Center
  • NIB Trust Fund