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Indigenous harm reduction program coming to Kelowna

The City of Kelowna recently received a grant from the federal government to grow cultural safety within harm reduction services for Indigenous people.

In a news release, the city says a $662,433 grant was provided through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program. The grant will be used to reduce stigma and racism faced by the Indigenous community and other marginalized groups in Kelowna.

Urban Matters CCC, the PEOPLE Live Experience Society and Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society have partnered together to deliver the program.

The Knknxtəwix̌ “We walk hand in hand” Indigenous Harm Reduction and Structural Stigma Dialogue with the Healthcare Sector program will roll out over the next two years.

“The ongoing effects of colonialism are intricately linked to the disproportionate impact that overdose and other substance use harms have on Indigenous Peoples,” said the honourable Carolyn Bennett, minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health.

Earlier this year, the BC Coroners Service said that 1,644 people died of overdose in the first nine months of 2022. More than 10,500 people have died across BC since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

The First Nations Health Authority estimates that First Nations people die due to toxic drugs are a rate more than five times that of non-First Nation people.

“This investment through SUAP will help the City of Kelowna continue their work to help people access harm reduction services, supplies and support through peer-to-peer connection.”

Kelowna's newest program is one of 73 projects that Health Canada is funding to help address the ongoing toxic drug crisis.

Local Indigenous people will have the opportunity to share their knowledge and advocate for and grow Indigenous cultural understanding within the health care sector which is meant to support more culturally-appropriate harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.

The program will train and mentor people with lived experience to become peer navigators to help others connect with the services they need.

It will also create an Indigenous Harm Reduction team made up of a nurse, social worker and two peer navigators.

“We are in the midst of challenging times,” said Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas.

“We see it here in Kelowna and across Canada. Action is needed on this issue, so I’m happy to see federal funding for the indigenous-led Knknxtəwix̌ program coming to Kelowna. It’s a step in addressing the barriers Indigenous and other marginalized communities face when accessing harm reduction services.”

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