Aboriginal Healing Centre – we’re a person, not an addiction: An interview with Tracey Morrison

During the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process, LAP committee reps Tracey Morrison and Victoria Bull kept bringing up the idea of having an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre in the DTES. When people went to City Council to speak on the Plan numerous people spoke in favour of the Centre and Council agreed that staff should try to put a plan together to get one built. The DT East interviewed Tracey Morrison about her view of what the Centre should be.

DT East: How is the planning going?

Tracey Morrison at the March 11, 2014 paint-in at the DTES copshop
Tracey Morrison at the March 11, 2014 paint-in at the DTES copshop

Tracey: For me the planning is going good. Slow, but its better to have it that way so we get it right. I want it to be a welcoming place for people who have dual addictions, alcohol and illicit drugs.

DT East: What are the important elements of the centre as you see it?

Tracey: Culture and tradition should be the foundation of it. As an aboriginal, I think that’s the only way people can heal, not the pharmaceutical way. It should be peer run. Peer run works. It gives people confidence and hope that we can do it. We’re a person, not the addiction.

DT East: What should happen at the centre when it gets built?

Tracey: It should be all about healing. Acceptance of who I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m aboriginal or not. People down here tend to look at what you’re doing, not who you are. For me the Creator is the only one who can judge us and he loves each and every one of us. Not to be ashamed or guilty is part of healing and wellness. Underlying the addiction is trauma. That should be the focus of the healing. Then we can work with the addiction.

DT East: Who will be working with people?

Tracey: People with an open mind and an open heart. Counselors, elders. If doctors are there, they should have the holistic way of healing people, not just pills. That doesn’t work for everybody. It should be based on the peer run model, people who are former users who know how it is on the street. They could be on the front desk, doing the work that needs to be done in the centre, maybe facilitating meetings and co-ordinating with the professionals so they have an idea of what happens on the street.

DT East: Where should it be?

Tracey: I would like it on Gore and Hastings where the Buddhist Temple is now because it needs to be in the heart of the DTES. This is where the problems are and this is where the healing needs to start. It doesn’t matter if the person is aboriginal or non aboriginal. The medicine wheel has 4 colours: red, white, yellow and black.

DT East: Why should it be in the DTES?

Tracey: Because this is where the most vulnerable hurting people are. If it’s outside, people are not going to ride a bus to a healing circle. They should be able to just walk right in and say “I need help.”

DT East: Some people say it shouldn’t be in the DTES because if you see people using you are triggered to use yourself?

Tracey: For me, I‘m a drug addict and an alcoholic. I don’t leave the DTES. People have to take baby steps. They have to walk in and when they see the beautiful steps done inside, maybe they’ll go to treatment. I know there are some traditional aboriginal people who say they can’t walk the red road cause they aren’t clean. I think that is very wrong cause it’s a roadblock for someone who’s thinking about being clean. You’ve got to have the bridge from being addicted to harm reduction then to abstinence. That’s how I see it would work. The Creator loves each and every one of us no matter who you are or what you do. He just loves you.

DT East: What can people do to help get it built?

Tracey: We have to for sure go through the Elders Council, talk to the Coast Salish People from all the territories and make sure that the low income caucus always has people involved in the planning at all times. It’s nice that from all the LAPP work that we did, I’m seeing implementation for the Healing Centre. That’s about the only thing I can see that was positive out of the LAPP and I just hope they don’t screw us over.

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