Programming Connection

TAHAH: Towards Aboriginal Health and Healing Program 

Vancouver STOP Project
Vancouver, British Columbia

Lessons Learned

  1. Knowledge of First Nation histories, cultures and philosophies of health is critical. Health providers must be supported to develop awareness of the historical context and cultures of First Nation peoples in Canada and their perception of heath. Health is understood by First Nation people as more than just absence of illness, and their understanding of health is also affected by historical and personal experiences of colonization.
  2. It takes a lot of time to build and maintain therapeutic relationships, but it’s worth it. Building therapeutic relationships with people who distrust health systems and have experienced trauma can take time, but these relationships are essential in supporting clients to experience a broader range of health choices.
  3. Peer health advocates can connect with clients in a different way. Peers offer education while modelling the skills necessary to navigate the extremely complex texture of street life, HIV infection and substance use.
  4. Programs must be flexible to respond to client needs. TAHAH continually evolves to adapt to its clients’ needs and views health as a lifelong process that unfolds in incremental stages. Healing in relation to HIV infection, trauma, substance use and addictions is understood as a process. A metaphor that is often used is that TAHAH staff members “walk beside” clients on their healing journeys.
  5. Multidisciplinary healthcare teams are required to provide the best care. On-site specialists facilitate a comprehensive approach to health issues and low-barrier referral processes.
  6. The social determinants of health must be addressed. Without safe and affordable housing, a reliable source of income, and a family doctor who understands the complexities of addictions, mental illnesses and poverty-related illness, it is impossible for a person to participate in their own healthcare decisions, such as starting HIV treatment.