Nelson-Castlegar Community Action Team

Beyond the Stigma of Substance Use

Formed in:  2016
Number of members:  40
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Nelson,  Castlegar,  

Unique features:

Focused on rural inclusion in community for peers in the West Kootenay region

A Q&A with Amanda Erickson of the Nelson-Castlegar CAT.

“We know that harm reduction works and has an impact. It’s important that we stay the course in this field, and don’t lose track of knowing that there are ways to shift things along,” – Amanda Erickson, Regional CAT Coordinator

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Amanda Erickson, Regional CAT coordinator to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with Nelson Fentanyl Task Force and the Castlegar Fentanyl Opioid Working Group (combined as the Nelson-Castlegar CAT). Here’s what she had to say.

CAI: So, how did your CAT initially form?
Amanda Erickson (AE): The Nelson CAT is called the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force (NFTF), and it was founded in 2016 shortly after the public health crisis was declared. It was founded by three different parties: Interior Health, the AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS) – which is our local/regional harm reduction provider – and the Nelson City Police. We’re in a different situation here compared to other CATs in the province because we have allies in the police force. Our former police chief has been a steadfast ally in our work since 2016. The first CAT meetings were incredibly large – over 100 people coming together into a room, and over time, as we’ve defined the work we now have monthly meetings for the NFTF.
    We’ve been really lucky to have ANKORS West here. They’ve been a longtime social services organization in the Kootenays, addressing the AIDS crisis early on. The workers are really well respected. There’s great rapport within the organization between peers and ANKORS staff. We have a really special community here in Nelson. We have a lot of collaboration going on among organizations here.
    Right around the same time as the NFTF was being formed, we formed the Castlegar CAT – the Castlegar Fentanyl Opioid Working Group/CFOWG. Nelson and Castlegar are closely linked. The main reason the CFOWG formed was to address stigma against peers, to address the underutilization of health care services, and to promote low-barrier health care services for peers.
CAI: How does your CAT work with, or engage with, Indigenous communities?
AE: We advocate to health service providers for access to Indigenous ways of healing and cultural safety for Indigenous people. In our CAT groups, we try to address and bring awareness to issues faced by Indigenous communities. For example, we read In Plain Sight, the investigative report on Indigenous discrimination in BC healthcare and discussed how we could incorporate recommendations.
    Since we began the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force five years ago, we’ve done three major conferences and have had about 130 people attend each conference. We always start with an Indigenous opening and work closely with COINS (Circle of Indigenous Nations), which is our local regional Indigenous social service provider. We work ongoing with COINS and local Elders to provide support for everyone who is involved in the community events.
CAI: Could you tell us more about the conferences that you’ve held?
AE: Our most recent conference was in 2019, and it was titled Rural Inclusion and Community. Peers are present at the conference, but also have a hand in creating the conference, which is really important to us. It was a really inspiring day. One of the keynote speakers was Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. Other speakers included two Indigenous Wellness Coordinators who came in and explained harm reduction and decolonizing practices. We also had local elder Duncan Grady speak, as well as Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. We hosted a panel that gave us the opportunity to hear from locals as well. We showcased Beyond the Stigma, an NFTF video series of short interviews. The series features the perspectives of those at the center of the crisis in Nelson – members of the CAT, healthcare service providers, and first responders and gained a lot of momentum in our local community and provincially.
    I received amazing feedback from people who attended the NFTF conference. I feel honored to be in the role and to have the opportunity to sit in these groups and to facilitate open communication. The conference was a very powerful experience. I think it was a healing experience for our community, and it helped people understand more about people who use drugs, and to understand trauma and its relationship to substance use. There’s work to be done, but it’s definitely one of the successes of NFTF.


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