The Indigenous Harm Reduction Team (IHRT), or I-Heart, was a group of Indigenous (Native / Aboriginal) folks who did harm reduction by and for Indigenous people from 2019-2023 — though we each did Indigenous harm reduction work before that and many of us are still doing it in different ways, even though IHRT has now dissolved. We are keeping our website active so people can still access the web resources we created and learn about the work we did.

Our team was made up of individuals who come from many nations (including nations on the island), who hold many different skills and identities, and who practice harm reduction in many ways including front-line work. Everyone in the team lived on Lkwungen, Esquimalt, and WSANEC territories while IHRT was running. We worked to identify and name colonial harms and Indigenous resistance and operated from a harm reduction lens that includes abstinence, instead of abstinence as the only solution to keeping people safer.

Harm reduction = community care

Community wellness was IHRT’s goal. We believe everyone deserves access to medicine, healing, culture, and community. We created spaces where Indigenous people who experience(d) stigma, discrimination, criminalization, and isolation because of alcohol or drug use were valued and centred.

By, with, and for, Indigenous communities

We did education around many different kinds of harm reduction including consent, safer sex, different kinds of drugs and their effects, safer substance use, colonization and substances, and overdose response. We also organized healing circles and art / culture workshops and groups where sobriety isn’t required. We got together to do this work because we recognized the gap in conversations by, with, and for, Indigenous communities and community members.

IHRT closed on May 31, 2023

This open letter to community was mailed out to our newsletter subscribers on May 17, 2023.

’Uy’ skweyul
ƛayaḥuʔaałs siiḥił

We hope this finds you well, enjoying the sun, and clear of wildfire smoke.

We’re writing today with news – as of May 31, 2023, IHRT will be closing. We know this is short notice for many of you, and that many of you have already heard as we have been talking with about it with folks who access the space for some time now.

When IHRT formed in April of 2019 we were a small grassroots team of 5 responding to the lack of support specifically for Indigenous people who use drugs. We have had 11 other people work with us over the course of our time but we usually have 5 – 7 people actively involved, with the majority of the work falling to the 1-2 of us who hold the most privilege and aren’t having to hustle to survive. We’ve never been a big team or had a lot of capacity, but we did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, and in the ways it needed to be done.

While there have been really hard things over the past 4 years (dealing with targeted racism on Orange Shirt Day and grieving our co-founder, Terry Doucette), and things we have not done well (like the timeliness of this letter), we have had many, many successes.

  • we were the first by-&-for Indigenous harm reduction team on the south island;
  • we hosted healing circles that prioritized Indigenous folk who use drugs;
  • we found ways to avoid becoming a non-profit and never had to compromise our governance structures, our ethics, or how we did things;
  • we pushed back on white supremacy both in our own practice and the practice of others;
  • we engaged with some of the local nations about harm reduction and provided education when our capacity allowed for it;
  • we gave out a ridiculous amount of supplies during COVID;
  • we trained/refreshed hundreds of people in naloxone;
  • we ran overnight warming tents when there was no emergency weather response;
  • we produced free educational materials including Dogs & Naloxone;
  • we provided free access to traditional medicines including sage and sweetgrass – dried and live plants;
  • we opened and ran an Indigenous-only art gallery and studio that prioritized folks who use drugs for 18 months;
  • we taught (and learned) oil painting, sewing, medicine bags, beading, quillwork, differing Coastal art styles, dreamcatchers, rattles, drums;
  • we tanned an elk hide from start to finish;
  • we hosted Use Maintenance workshops, Peer Support groups, and ID clinics;
  • we provided ten to twenty $10 honorariums every day our space was open

We knew the building we lease was slated for demolition and that we only had it until this June. We didn’t know what would come after the lease was up, but we wanted to do this even if it was temporary. It’s been a LOT of work but based on the relationships we’ve built, the learning and growing we’ve done, and the feedback we’ve gotten from folks who access the space – it has been worth it.  

It has been amazing and heart-filling to be a part of an Indigenous-only team that has succeeded despite the deeply rooted culture of white supremacy in the non-profit world. We are strong, creative, skilled, knowledgeable, resilient … and now we are really tired and are stopping to take a much-needed rest.

Tuesday May 30 will be the last day for people to access the space. As a closing and thank you we will be hosting a day of celebration with Indigenous community, as always, prioritizing folks who use substances, on Saturday May 27th from 11 – 4, including frybread and a giveaway.
We invite Indigenous organizations to visit us on June 7th to accept any remaining supplies and furnishings. We hope to have a list of available items and supplies posted by June 5th.
Our hands are raised to everyone who has supported us over these last 4 years – especially the Elders from Tsow Tun Le-Lum and everyone who accessed our “services”. You have made a huge difference in our lives and we hope that we’ve provided even a little bit of care to you.
All Our Relations,
the current IHRT team
Honey (Cat) McCarthy, Avery Masur, Terry Dicks, Alida Mayor, Raven Hiebert, Lynnette Kirkwood, Terry Dicks, Terry Marion, Daystar Belcourt, trish pal, and Terry Doucette

Community Celebration
Saturday May 27th, 11 – 4 pm
A a day of celebration with Indigenous community –  as always, prioritizing folks who use substances

Things we’re working on for that day:
– giveaway of art and art supplies
– brushing off
– prizes