This is Episode Four of the Courage My Friends podcast: From epidemic to pandemic: rethinking health.

We discuss how people are coping in the pandemic and the ways populations are impacted differently. Where is the most vulnerability? The discussion highlights the realities for those in poverty, particularly the under-housed. Together we discuss how Indigenous teachings and harm reduction practices can inform our responses to these current crises and help us to move forward in a compassionate way that does not leave people behind.

Today’s guest host John Caffery is joined by two guests — Zoë Dodd, community scholar at the University Health Network and harm reduction activist, and Keith McCrady, who has worked with Indigenous children and youth for over 25 years. He is now the executive director of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, an organization that focuses on prevention, education and support for 2-Spirit, including First Nations, Metis and Inuit people living with or at risk for HIV and related co-infections in the Greater Toronto Area. The organization bases its work on Indigenous philosophies of holistic health and wellness.

Recent studies have shown that people are struggling to cope; rates of suicide, eating disorders, domestic violence, and substance use have all significantly increased since the pandemic began. Ontario has been in an opioid crisis for a decade and the pandemic served to exacerbate the situation with overdose deaths increasing by 76 per cent according to the report Changing Circumstances Surrounding Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In discussing the social determinants of health, Dodd expressed the need to see people as whole beings.

“The pandemic has shown us we have so much grave inequality with the impacts of colonization, racism, poverty, some of the biggest social determinants of health have been around housing and income and the massive inequality in so many ways causing people to die,” she said.

As the conversation shifts to discussing the environmental conditions in Canada and the boil water advisories in Ontario, McCrady noted that the lack of access to drinking water on Indigenous reserves is “pure evil.”

“If this was any other community, I think it would be solved long ago, the people in power are failing us and adding to the problem…to even feel that you are worthy of water…we need to focus on the areas that we are failing, including Indigenous people, we need to service families as a whole.”

The episode is a tender, powerful, and thought provoking discussion amongst people who have worked on the frontlines for years and who share their insights of how to care for one another and create a more humane and just world for us all to live in.

About today’s guests:

Zoë Dodd is a long-time harm reduction worker and advocate for drug user health and liberation living and working in Tkaronto/Toronto. She spent 15 years co-facilitating Hepatitis C support groups that are rooted in popular education and harm reduction. She was instrumental in developing a community-based model of Hep C care that prioritizes people who use drugs. She is a vocal critic of government responses to the overdose crisis; an expert in overdose response, she helped to establish Ontario’s first overdose prevention site, Moss Park OPS which ran illegally in a park for a year before receiving government funding. Zoë is a co-founder and co-organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society. She is currently working as a community scholar with MAP centre for Urban Health Solutions focused on the harms of involuntary drug treatment. She is an abolitionist, anti-capitalist and is strongly committed to dismantling the drug war.

Keith McCrady grew up in the community of Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek, and relocated to the GTA over 13 years ago and now calls Scarborough home. Keith, the proud father of four has dedicated his life to supporting the goals and dreams of Indigenous communities, particularly in Toronto. Initially, he focused on children and youth programs, and eventually expanded into Indigenous education, employment, human trafficking, physical literacy and housing. Keith McCrady’s advocacy and leadership also come with his identity as a two-spirited person. “It’s not just a sexual orientation or a gender identity,” he says. “It’s also my role in my community and a place in our circle.” As the executive director of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Keith’s goal is to walk alongside the 2SLGBTQ communities and provide education and support to members of the 2-Spirit community and reclaim our place in the Circle.

With guest host John Caffrey.

A transcript of this episode can be accessed at georgebrown.ca/TommyDouglasInstitute

Images: Zoe Dodd and Keith McCrady. Used with Permission

Music: Ang Kahora. Lynne, Bjorn. Rights Purchased

Intro Voices: Chandra Budhu (General Intro./Outro.), Miriam Roopanram, Sharon Russell Julian Wee Tom (Street Voices); Bob Luker (Tommy Douglas quote)

Courage My Friends Podcast Organizing Committee: Resh Budhu, Victoria Fenner (for rabble.ca), Ashley Booth, Chandra Budhu, John Caffery, Michael Long

Produced by Resh Budhu, Tommy Douglas Institute and Victoria Fenner, rabble.ca

Host: Resh Budhu

A co-production of the Tommy Douglas Institute, George Brown College, Toronto, and rabble.ca with the support of the Douglas Coldwell Foundation.

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