Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, here in Canada. It’s a day to reflect on, and learn about, the rich and diverse cultures and histories of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. We acknowledge with gratitude that Covenant House Vancouver’s work takes place on the traditional lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
The day serves as a reminder of the resilience and strength demonstrated by Indigenous communities throughout history, despite the many challenges and injustices they have faced. It is also a time to reflect on the ongoing process of truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, recognizing the need to address the impacts of colonization and promote understanding, healing, and respect.
Across BC, while only 6% of BC’s total population is Indigenous (according to the 2016 Census), about 39% of people experiencing homelessness self-identify as Indigenous. Indigenous individuals continue to experience homelessness at a massively disproportionate rate.
At Covenant House Vancouver, in 2022, we found that:
- 29% of the population we served self-identified as being Indigenous
- 67 Indigenous youth were new to our programs and services
- 127 Indigenous youth accessed our Drop-In Centre and 179 Indigenous youth were supported by our Outreach teams
- 45 Indigenous youth stayed in our Crisis Program
Nearly 1/3 of the youth population we serve is Indigenous and we have an obligation and responsibility to be able to provide holistic care, which may include spiritual and cultural supports. As an organization, we actively participate in educating ourselves, and ask ourselves, how can we do better? Where we aren’t experts in our services, we connect with local organizations and additional Indigenous and cultural supports for the Indigenous youth who come to Covenant House.
We’d like to highlight four organizations that we learn so much from, often work with, and connect our Indigenous youth to:
Please take some time to visit their websites and learn more about these organizations and the significant work they do.
Indigenous Medicine Cabinets
Through our work with some of these organizations, and from engaging in Indigenous knowledge and practices, we learned of Indigenous medicine cabinets. Indigenous medicine cabinets hold significant cultural, spiritual, and medicinal value within Indigenous communities. They serve as repositories of traditional knowledge, healing practices, and remedies that have been passed down through generations. Indigenous medicine cabinets are not only physical containers but embodiments of Indigenous culture, identity, and a testament to the resilience and strength of Indigenous peoples. They represent a rich legacy of healing wisdom and offer valuable insights into alternative approaches to health and wellness that can be appreciated and respected by all.
Our Spiritual Care Counsellor, Kadee, supplies youth with cultural, religious, and sacred items. Youth approach either their youth worker, social worker, or go directly to Kadee, and request the item needed. Being a largely colonial organization, many staff felt a certain discomfort with being a middleperson between Indigenous youth and the spiritual items they needed. The nature of these items, such as sweetgrass, cedar, sage, and tobacco, causes them to get used up a lot quicker than traditional spiritual care items like prayer beads, which means that they need to be replaced and replenished more often. Staff felt that young people shouldn’t have to ask, and these items should be available and accessible to them whenever they needed them.
The Manager of Complex Support Services, worked to get two Indigenous medicine cabinets commissioned, one in the Crisis Program and one in the Wellness/Spiritual Room, with a third one underway for the Drop-in Centre. The Indigenous medicine cabinets would be in communal areas, stocked with sage, sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco, and other plant-based remedies and herbal preparations, for youth to access as they need, without having to ask and have someone else source the items for them.
The Indigenous medicine cabinets are an important component to the care that we provide for this demographic. It helps Indigenous youth foster a connection to their culture and traditions and allows them to practice in a spiritual and ceremonial way that honours their culture, their heritage and their ancestral traditions.
The purpose of Indigenous medicine cabinets is multifold:
- Healing and Medicine: Indigenous medicine cabinets contain an array of plant-based remedies, herbal preparations, and other natural substances that are used for healing purposes. Indigenous peoples have developed an intricate understanding of the medicinal properties of various plants and their applications for treating different ailments. These cabinets house the necessary tools and ingredients for preparing and administering traditional medicines.
- Cultural Preservation: Indigenous medicine cabinets play a crucial role in preserving and revitalizing traditional healing practices and knowledge. They embody the cultural heritage and wisdom of Indigenous communities, maintaining a connection with ancestral traditions. By safeguarding and passing on this knowledge, Indigenous peoples can ensure the continuity of their healing practices and maintain their cultural identity.
- Spiritual and Ceremonial Significance: Indigenous medicine cabinets often have a spiritual dimension as well. They may contain sacred objects, ceremonial items, or elements that are used in rituals and ceremonies for healing and spiritual well-being. Indigenous healing practices are often intertwined with spirituality that recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.
Sourcing the items for Indigenous youth is something that we do consciously and ethically. All our medicines are procured through Cedar Root Gallery, which is an Indigenous owned and operated store, found inside the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.
The Opportunity for Dialogue, Education, and Relationships
National Indigenous Peoples Day is marked by various events and activities across the country. These celebrations not only showcase Indigenous culture, but also provide opportunities for education, dialogue, and the fostering of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is important, because it serves as a platform to raise awareness about the issues faced by Indigenous communities, such as land rights, environmental stewardship, access to healthcare and education, economic development, and the preservation Indigenous languages and knowledge. It highlights the need for continued efforts to support the self-determination, empowerment, and well-being of Indigenous peoples.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is an important step toward recognizing the rights, contributions, and cultural diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. By honouring their history, achievements, and ongoing struggles, this day promotes a more inclusive and equitable society that fosters understanding, respect, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
If you would like to learn more, three documents that have been integral to our learnings towards the acknowledgement of historical injustices, the understanding of systemic issues, the ways to seek justice and healing, and the need for reconciliation are:
- Calls to Action: recommendations put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), that addresses the legacy of the residential school system.