Vancouver Community Action Team

Diverse perspectives solve complex problems

Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  70
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Vancouver,  

Unique features:

A focus on micro-granting and advocating for strong Indigenous engagement, and striving for culturally safe practices.

A Q&A with Alycia Fridkin of the Vancouver CAT.

“It’s always important to ask ‘How we are integrating and centering Indigenous peoples into our general processes?’” – Alycia Fridkin, Urban Health Planner, City of Vancouver

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Alycia Fridkin, Urban Health Planner for the City of Vancouver, to discuss Indigenous collaboration, learnings, and evolution of the Vancouver CAT. Here’s what she had to say.

CAI: What do you believe it is that most keeps you motivated?
Alycia Fridkin (AF): On a personal level, I love working directly with people who have a history of drug use in that I find the community is so non-judgmental, so engaged. They are social justice oriented and insightful. They have an ability to humanize the issues – something that is often lacking in the broader health system. I believe if we want to make policy decisions that are going to make a difference in health equity then we need to involve people who are most directly and negatively impacted by those policies and decisions.
CAI: How are people with lived and living experience of substance use (PWLLE) involved in your CAT?
AF: We have several different working focus groups that are dedicated to areas like Indigenous harm reduction, safe supply, peer wellness, and youth overdose prevention. Most of these groups involve people with lived experience. We also have a Planning Committee that includes peers and approves budgets for these working group projects. We have a governance structure with peers included at all levels – from deciding our priorities, how our money gets spent, to informing City policy.
    Our most recent example is pulling together CAT members and people with lived and living experience of substance use to advise the Mayor on ways to reduce stigma and embrace a more health-based approach to substance use. After the session, the Mayor passed the motion asking the Federal Government to decriminalize personal use of drugs in the City of Vancouver.
CAI: Can you speak to how your CAT engages with Indigenous communities?
AF: We make sure Indigenous partners are involved in all our work. Indigenous people are overrepresented in the overdose crisis and they deserve to be heard. We focus on two things. The first is carving out space for Indigenous people's priorities in the Indigenous Peer Advisory Committee. The second, is to ensure the response to the crisis is not for everyone else and then for Indigenous people separately. As well, we support three Indigenous-led initiatives which include the projects: Indigenous Tools for Living for Front Line workers from VACPCS, the Indigenous Mentorship Program from MVAEC , and Uya’am Gaak from SRO-C.
    Building relationships is so important when working with Indigenous partners. I’ve seen so many times where Indigenous people aren’t included until the end, and this really interferes with the relationship. Really connecting with people, being open, and listening when people give critical feedback and adjusting to it is important. It’s so important to create culturally safe spaces – spaces that aren’t experienced as violent and dismissive. Cultural protocols such as listening to understand rather than to respond – creating action out of listening and responding to feedback with accountability – is practiced within the meeting.
It’s always important to ask ‘How we are integrating and centering Indigenous peoples into our general processes?’
CAI: What are one or two successes your CAT has been able to achieve and celebrate?
AF: The relationships we’ve built with people with lived and living experience of substance use. The Indigenous peer advisory group did a visioning feast last year, and it was so beautiful seeing people come together and be a part of something special. This feast was about bringing people together, asking questions, hosting Elders, exchanging gifts with ceremonial elements.
    The Youth Overdose Prevention group came together and identified the barriers that youth accessing overdose prevention services have. For example, they might be turned away at harm reduction sites by people saying: ‘You don’t want to be here. You don’t want to be like me.’ But then there’s no place for them to go. The youth facilities where they are allowed, they aren’t allowed to keep comfort items – like a stuffed animal. It’s heartbreaking hearing the journey of how many barriers and how much discrimination youth experience. I think involving them and hearing their voices is a huge success.
CAI: If you were to give one piece of advice to a new CAT, what would you say?
AF: The purpose of the CAT is to bring people together to innovate. We started with a call for expressions of interest, asking what projects out there need funding. But if we really want to look for opportunities to do different things, we need to work with our community and ask: ‘What’s missing? What do you need?’ In order to do that, you need to invest in thinking about a process that’s going to facilitate engagement – including Indigenous people, and people with lived and living experience of substance use. You need people who are willing to take many diverse perspectives on a complex problem to work together to figure out the solution.


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