Northern Feathers Program: Relationship Building & Shared Teachings

“People are so quick to not accept people who are street involved. They separate us into those that use and those that don’t use. It’s so unfair. Harm reduction is not about drugs…it’s about unconditional love and about being there on your own terms. Nobody is above anybody. There is no failure here.” – Elder, Wanda Whitebird

Last winter, as pandemic restrictions began to lift and as part of SRCHC’s commitment to support spaces where Indigenous people feel welcomed, can engage in cultural activities, and can give and receive community support, a group of staff led by SRCHC’s Indigenous Health Promoter, Les Harper, started a regalia-making group for women who use our harm-reduction services. Regalia is the traditional clothing and accessories worn by Indigenous people at dances and cultural events. Over an eight-week period in May and June, six participants worked with well-known regalia-maker and dancer Nichole Leveck and her daughter Nazarene Pope to envision and create their own regalia. The group culminated in a community Circle and coming-out dance that brought program participants together to showcase their regalia.

The regalia project’s activities were grounded in relationship building and shared teachings. Elder, Wanda Whitebird offered guidance to the program and gave the group its name: Northern Feathers Dance Troupe. This name reflects both what the dancers have in common and their unique contributions. Like feathers, they are each vitally important, and like birds, they are ready to fly. This program is the first of its kind to bring together women who use drugs and to provide a space for their inclusion in cultural activities from a harm-reduction framework. The Northern Feathers dancers have since participated in other community powwows and cultural events. SRCHC is grateful to have had the opportunity to support this space for community building and to be able to witness the joy and bravery of our community so beautifully expressed.

“As Indigenous people, so many times throughout history we’ve not been allowed to do things, and things were taken away from us. This project speaks back to that. This shows the strength and resilience of our culture. It’s such a wonderful and powerful thing. It cannot and will not be taken away from us.“ – Les Harper