You can’t understand Canada’s overdose crisis without knowing the truth about this country –  and that’s the story of colonization: a centuries-long effort to steal land and erase Indigenous peoples.

In April 2019, Garth and Thunder Bay podcast creator Ryan McMahon were chatting on the phone. Ryan said that some Indigenous communities are reticent about harm reduction and that Crackdown should look at that.

Garth Mullins & Ryan McMahon (Photo: Lisa Hale)

We’ve been talking about making this episode since our first editorial board meeting in 2018, when Chereece Keewatin, Shelda Kastor and Jeff Louden talked about how the overdose crisis affects them as Indigenous people. Since then Chereece died – and we blame racist drug war policies for that.

Shelda guided the work on this episode, mapping the connections between abstinence programs, the Red Road and Indigenous approaches harm reduction.

A full transcript of this episode is here.

WAHRS treasurer Linda Steinhauer stands by a mural painted by Trey Helten and Sean “Heph” Hefele in the alley outside OPS on the Downtown Eastside. (Photo: Alexander Kim)
The names of loved ones who have died in this crisis on Trey and Sean’s mural, “For the Loved Ones We Have Lost”. Joseph Steinhauer is Linda’s son. He worked at this OPS before he died, and was recognized for his work there by the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC Awards.
(Photo: Alexander Kim)
Tracey Morrison (RiP)
Video by Alexander Kim and Stefan Labbé.

KEY FINDINGS from the work of our editorial board member Shelda Castor and our science advisor, Ryan McNeil.

  • Canada’s drug overdose crisis disproportionately affects Indigenous Peoples differently owing to a legacy of colonialism, racism and intergenerational trauma.
  • Disaggregated data on Indigenous people are needed to understand more clearly how Indigenous Peoples are affected by drug overdoses.
  • Indigenizing harm reduction and addiction treatment must involve integrating cultural and traditional Indigenous values that align with the principles of harm reduction.
  • Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples must include ending the war on drugs to address underlying structural conditions that produce drug-related harms, including overdose.

Some of the CALLS TO ACTION from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.

19. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long- term trends. Such efforts would focus on indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services.

21. We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.


We recommend Bob Joseph’s book21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and the 94 Calls to Action should be read by everyone. Chelsea Vowel’s book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada is essential reading.

We recommend listening to all of Ryan’s CANADALAND’s podcast THUNDER BAY. Ryan also produces Red Man Laughing and Stories From The Land.



Crackdown is produced on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. 

You can support us at

This month, editorial board member Shelda Kastor provided invaluable advice and direction to me and the production team. Thank you Shelda.

We’d also like to thank Esk’etemc for letting us use clips of their film and Trey Helten and Shawn “Heph” Hefele, whose mural is in the art for this month’s show. 

Our Editorial Board is: 
Samona Marsh
Shelda Kastor
Greg Fess
Jeff Louden
Dean Wilson
Dave Murray
Al Fowler
Laura Shaver
And Chereece Keewatin. RiP Chereece. 

Crackdown’s senior producer is Sam Fenn. Our producers are Alexander Kim and Lisa Hale.

Our science advisor is Ryan McNeil. Assistant Professor & Director of Harm Reduction Research in the Yale School of Medicine.

Garth Mullins is Crackdown’s host, writer and executive producer. You can follow him on twitter @garthmullins. 

Original score written and performed by Sam Fenn, James Ash, Kai Paulson and me. Our theme song was written by Garth and Sam with accompaniment from Dave Gens and Ben Appenheimer.  

We make this podcast with funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. And from our Patreon supporters. 

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