The Volcano interviewed Tracey Morrison, President of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. WAHRS is a group of current and former illicit drug and/or alcohol users.*
Volcano: Tell us about the research you’re so enthusiastic about.
Tracey: The story begins with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS. They are indigenizing our research through talking circles. I say “our” research because it is WAHRS that is doing the actual research. We have had talking circles on four subjects where we gather information. It’s not research done in the conventional way where people from the outside come in and research us.
The topics for the four circles are access to health care, access to detox, experiences in HIV and AIDS and experiences in research. With the old way of research, people were just tired of being lab rats and the outcomes of the research came back really technical.
Volcano: How do the talking circles work?
Tracey: We had three a month for a year and a half. We pick 8 participants in our Friday WAHRS meetings. Those 8 participants have to commit to 3 sessions per month every Friday after our regular meeting. Fridays are really busy for our board cause we all prepare for this from 10 to 4 pm and we do it faithfully, no complaints. I’m really thankful for the board members I work with.
In the Downtown Eastside people get desensitized to trauma and people passing away. We found in the talking circle that there is a need for people to tell their stories and help heal from these traumas.
People who are very quiet in our regular Friday meetings have been talkative in the healing circles. It’s amazing. There’s a lot of people who pass the feather on so they don’t have to talk but people are taking the feather and speaking of their heart, their soul, their minds, with the feather in their hands. There’s so much cleansing of your soul in these circles. I know it sounds sort of spiritual, but it is. I’m going to keep this going as long as I can. Culturally and traditionally, a lot of people want to get back to who they are, where they’re from, Ojibway, Mohawk, Cree. I’m one of them. I’d like to speak my own language. I’d like to sing my grandpa’s songs that he sang to me as a child.