The legacy of colonization and oppression, loss of culture and language, and the resulting intergenerational trauma experienced by many First Nations people and communities has significantly impacted health and wellbeing – especially in the complex context of substance abuse and addiction, and related mental health issues. Substance use and addiction has touched all of our lives, our families and our communities in different ways. Over the last several years, as statistics concerning overdoses and substance use continued to rise – we at the Wotstak (Woodstock) First Nation Health Centre asked ourselves “What can we do?”

Through our relationships and partnerships, we learned about an initiative that had the potential to strengthen conventional harm reduction by weaving in culture, teachings, community and connections to the land. Enter Our Healthbox by REACH Nexus, a harm reduction approach to keep people safer – centered in dignity, human rights and compassion. It is a 'smart', interactive dispensing machine with the goal to:

  • provide low barrier-access to self-testing kits for HIV plus essential harm reduction and sexual health supplies for free.
  • provide health resources, and a support services directory for people to find the healthcare they need – in their community.

After initial discussions with the REACH Nexus team, the Wotstak (Woodstock) First Nation Health Centre decided to proceed with the on-boarding process. We chose Our Healthbox because of its potential to meet individuals, families and communities where they were at – and to work alongside them as they traveled along their health and wellness journeys.

Throughout the implementation of Our Healthbox, we have been able to provide our community members with the items they deem a priority; addressing period poverty by organizing a donation agreement with Aunt Flow to provide menstrual hygiene products, collaborating with elders to include traditional medicine bundles to cultivate spiritual wellbeing, ending HIV testing stigmatization by providing HIV self-test kits, and including snack packs to address the growing need of food in our community households.

Our Healthbox has provided us with an innovative and impactful service that reaches all demographics in our community 24/7/365. It promotes self-determination, governance, traditional medicine, and provides our community members with a stigma-free environment they can visit on their own time. With the implementation of the Woodstock First Nation Healthbox, we have removed some barriers (systemic racism, transportation availability, social anxiety, etc) that would halt individuals from seeking care.

Mainstream harm reduction models focus too narrowly on substance using behaviors, neglecting the broader social and system-wide issues that contribute to and intersect with substance use for Indigenous peoples in the first place. Our Healthbox allows us to broaden this view, and share that Indigenous harm reduction is a way of life rooted in Indigenous Knowledges and worldviews. Indigenous harm reduction combines the best of what the Western world can offer, and focuses on mitigating the living legacy of colonization. As per the First Nations Health Authority “An Indigenous harm reduction approach to harm reduction re-connects people to culture, and rebuilds relationships with the interconnected spiritual, human and natural worlds”.

Our Healthbox has allowed us to integrate cultural and traditional Indigenous values that aligned with the principles of harm reduction. Our experiences and needs were listened to, and we were supported to develop/access the harm reduction strategies, practices and services that worked for us.

Melanie Madore has been a Registered Nurse for over 10 years with an interest in public health and community health. She is currently the Community Health Nurse at the Woodstock First Nation Health Centre, and a Public Health Nurse with Horizon Health (New Brunswick). She values the importance of patient centered and culturally competent care within harm reduction, health programming and population health. Melanie is also a mother to three young children, three dogs, two cats, and 7 chickens. You’ll often find her in the garden, and she’ll never say no to an outdoor activity (especially paddle boarding).

The Woodstock First Nation Health Centre offers health and community services that focus on connections with family, community, and culture. The Centre strives to assist First Nations individuals and families in achieving physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health through health promotion, traditional teachings, education, disease prevention activities, partnerships, and health services.