Integrating Indigenous-sensitive practices Within Community Organizations

This is the fifth in a series of monthly blog posts representing perspectives on potential governance changes at PAN. These posts represent voices across the network – staff, PAN Board members, people living with HIV, and community members – sharing their thoughts on these changes. One of the proposed changes is to designate a seat for the First Nations Health Authority on the Board, a recommendation that received 98% support in the Members and Allies Survey.  This month, Paula Tait provides perspectives on integrating Indigenous-sensitive practices within community organizations. 


My name is Paula Tait, I am Witsuwit’en, from Witset, formally known as Moricetown, B.C.  I am born into the Beaver Clan, we are a matriarchal society.  I am a mother of two children, my daughter is 25 and my son is 13 years of age.  I received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from U.B.C, majoring in Canadian Studies.  I worked in the HIV Sector for three years and previously, I worked in Early Childhood Development sector.  I have several years of experience working with Indigenous Organizations, First Nations communities and non-Indigenous Organizations in the Lower Mainland.


Can you tell us about your work with Positive Living Fraser Valley and how it can help Indigenous people living with HIV/HCV to feel safe and more supported?

As a consultant for Positive Living Fraser Valley (PLFV), I witnessed the staff working tirelessly, providing respectful and non-judgmental services to clients, whether they were non-Indigenous or Indigenous.  PLFV service delivery programming is successful because of their location, excellent staff rapport with clients (which is crucial), and diversified programming that helps with the goal of serving hard to reach populations and honouring individuals where they are at in their life’s journey.  The universal care for clients is key for Indigenous populations utilizing Positive Living Fraser Valley’s services.

PLFV does not have an Indigenous program with an Indigenous staff, however, Indigenous clients are utilizing services from a non-Indigenous organization.  As an Indigenous woman, I will choose not to utilize programs and services, with poor service delivery and I will go elsewhere, or not receive services at all.  When I am utilizing non-Indigenous programs, the location must be accessible, whether it’s by public transit, walking and/or driving.  The service must be friendly, respectful and supportive, and lastly, the programming must meet my needs or my children’s needs.  PLFV serves 50% Indigenous clients, and this says a lot.

In my perspective, the Indigenous population that frequents PLFV feel safe and are comfortable to access their programming.  Unfortunately, there is no Indigenous health service delivery in Abbotsford, there is only Indigenous Child and Family Services and Indigenous Education under the Abbotsford School District.  The closest Indigenous health services is in Mission, at the Mission Friendship Centre.  PLFV provides a variety of services for HIV, viral hepatitis and people who use drugs.  Diversified programing allows PLFV to provide services at the office and to provide outreach to clients outside of Abbotsford in the Fraser East.  The progressive services help reduce the gap of health care, and helps with the goal of serving the hard to reach individuals.


What is your approach to integrating Indigenous practices to support existing clients of PLFV?

As the consultant for PLFV, I was contracted to increase Indigenous partnership and culture.  Effective Indigenous partnerships and culture require funding.  Most of BC’s Industries have an Indigenous project, program and/or partnership.  For example, there may be an Indigenous Health Team working in a respective Health Authority, and the Indigenous Team and its programming has a budget to support its programming.  From my experience, funders prioritize allocating Indigenous dollars to Indigenous service organizations, and this practice is intended to increase Indigenous service delivery, which is good!

I worked on building relationships with Indigenous Service Organizations to support existing clients at PLFV.  To build Indigenous relationships for PLFV, I reached out to my networks.  Working within an urban Indigenous community, it is common that we’ll know somebody who knows their cousin or family member.  It’s usual to hear, “I used to go to school with your aunty” or “I worked with your sister.” The Indigenous circle of friends and/or colleagues is interconnected in some way. And if there are no interconnections, new connections are created.

Once connections were made, Positive Living Fraser Valley met with Mission Friendship Centre and separately with Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre.  Ideas were flowing, invitations were exchanged, common service delivery gaps were discussed and before you know it, the beginning of reestablished relationships were built.


How will a better integrated approach help connect with the most vulnerable and prevent people from falling through the cracks? 

A better integrated approach that would help connect with the most vulnerable and prevent individuals from falling through the cracks is reducing or eliminating the silos organizations are contracted to provide.  As an example, an organization is contracted to provide separate services for viral hepatitis, HIV and harm reduction.  Having an integrated approach for service delivery would improve services to encompass most of the needs of the clients.


How may other organizations consider integrating Indigenous principles into their services?

Organizations desiring to integrate Indigenous principles into their services have to explain why this is a priority, the intention, and describe specifically what Indigenous principles are integrated?

Understanding our history is critical, this is a step into Truth and Reconciliation.  Knowing that relationship building will take time and lots of nurturing because in the past, Indigenous knowledge and culture have been expropriated and there are recent experiences of distrust and theft of Indigenous knowledge.  However, there are amazing Indigenous Projects under non-Indigenous Organizations, such as B.C. Centre for Disease Control has an Indigenous Project called Chee Mamuk (Aboriginal Health), another example, is the Province of British Columbia has an Aboriginal Youth Internship Program and so on.  There is so much potential integrating Indigenous principles, culture and programming into non-Indigenous Organizations, anything is possible.


If you’re interested in connecting with Paula and hearing more about the services she can provide your organization, please email her, [email protected]




Learn More:

Read the other blogs in the series


To help support the discussion on potential governance changes at PAN, we have created a gateway where people can ask questions and/or request to be contacted by a member of the PAN Governance Committee: [email protected].