British Columbia

Single mother of 3 calls for better services for Indigenous families on DTES

First Nations activist Robin Raweater, who has lived on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for 30 years and is now raising three daughters there as a single mother, says Indigenous families in the neighbourhood are disproportionately impacted by poverty and trauma.

'We are First Nations but we're the last on the list'

Robin Raweater, right, is living in a shelter on the Downtown Eastside while trying to find affordable housing for herself and her daughters. (Red Women Rising)

Robin Raweater is raising three daughters on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and says doing so would be a lot easier if she could find somewhere they could all live.

Raweater, an Indigenous activist and co-chair of the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre's board of directors, has lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years and says while there are several organizations providing support in the area, there are still not enough resources aimed at helping Indigenous families.

One of the main barriers preventing Indigenous families from escaping poverty is access to affordable housing and Raweater told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, "it's extremely difficult" to find it in Vancouver as a single mother. 

"We need more family units," said Raweater, who is currently living in a shelter while she waits for B.C. Housing to find somewhere she and her girls can move into. She estimates the wait could take up to 18 months.

Raweater, who is Blackfoot from the Siksika Nation, was in and out of foster homes as a child and her own mother was forced into a residential school. 

Separating Indigenous families, said Raweater, has caused "trauma that gets passed down from generation to generation" and she said service providers should be better equipped to help people who have been traumatized.

Indigenous people in British Columbia are disproportionately impacted by both homelessness and the opioid crisis. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

'Entrenched in trauma'

"They need more cultural sensitivity training," said Raweater, "Our people are so hurt, they're so entrenched in trauma right now, and there's not proper supports and services to help heal."

According to Raweater, the opioid crisis is disproportionately impacting Indigenous people because they are self-medicating to manage this trauma.

She also believes frontline workers on the Downtown Eastside should have access to trauma support because of what they see and experience on the job.

"They need to go for the trauma therapy so they're better able to help," said Raweater, "Because you're getting traumatized people helping traumatized people."

Research shows Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by homelessness and the opioid crisis and Indigenous children are far more likely to be apprehended by social services.

Raweater said more healing and wellness centres in the neighbourhood could help First Nations residents suffering from trauma and addiction.

"Indigenous people are First Nations, but we are the last on the list ... especially here in the Downtown Eastside," said Raweater. "We're trying to rise right now ... we wish we could be, and we should be, better supported."

The Early Edition