A conference last week aimed at those on the front lines working with vulnerable people in the community hopes to keep people a bit safer.
With “HIV facts” posted on the wall declaring things like “every year as many as 4,500 people in Canada are infected with HIV” and “74 per cent of new HIV infections in 2006 were among aboriginal people,” the motivation for the conference was literally written on the wall.
The conference included two evenings and two days of activities on helping to reduce harm by preventing deaths and hospitalizations associated with individuals involved in high-risk behaviours. Participants came from a range of fields dealing with these issues, from nurses to counsellors to social workers and youth workers.
With interactive theatre performances Tuesday and Wednesday, the YouthCo theatre group got the audience into the performance to help explore the themes of fear, trust, protection and connectedness.
On Wednesday, there were a whole range of discussions and talks, including speakers from Quesnel and Prince George.
One speaker, Paul Michel, UNBC First Nations director and adjunct professor of First Nations Studies presented with his wife, Mavis Erickson.
He spoke on ending violence against women and called the rate of domestic violence in aboriginal homes in the region a “horrific statistic” which puts central B.C. as one of the higher rates in the country.
He said he challenges the aboriginal men to protect the women, which would have been one of their traditional roles in the community.
He said moving from “chaos to balance” should be the goal, but this can only happen through changes in policies, programs and practices, and not by ignoring the issues.
“This conference is awesome in that it’s expanding the concept (of harm reduction),” said Michel.
In order to respond to the people in the community practicing high risk behaviours, people need to be respectful, pragmatic realistic and spiritual, according to Michel. “It has to be a community or family response to the issues - everyone has to be an advocate,” he said.
After their lunch break on Wednesday, some community members shared their experiences with harm reduction and gave good examples of why the practices of harm reduction are important.
One man told a moving story about his nephew dying of AIDS, and he said there should have been more people from the local First Nations bands at the conference so they could learn how important protecting the community can be - and how cost-effective.
He pointed out the large amounts of money spent on full-time medical care for his nephew as he was dying could have been saved by the cost of some harm reduction supplies like clean needles and condoms.
By protecting these people until they decide to be clean, they can help protect the entire community.
Another speaker described how she was 12 years old when she did her fist lines of cocaine and then told the painful story of her addiction, living on Skid Row in Vancouver.
She then challenged the audience to engage in conversations with their children, no matter how young. Her parents did not know she was even doing cocaine while living with them from the age of 12 to the age of 19, at which time she left home.
Wednesday evening there were then two different options for conference participants, their choice of a performance by YouthCo Live Theatre if they missed their first performance Tuesday night or they could watch the documentary film “Miss Representation” which explored the representation of women in the media and how it has evolved.
The conference on Wednesday at Music Makers Hall had over 40 people in attendance, many of whom were health professionals from other towns, including Quesnel, Cache Creek, and Vanderhoof, amongst those The Courier spoke to.