Meet the man supporting his fellow Haisla people as overdose crisis continues
'Just the fact that they know that their nation is behind them is huge,' says James Harry
James Harry used to walk around Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, looking for a high.
But he's been sober for five years now. These days, Harry walks into the alleys and on the streets, searching for something else: his people.
As a member of the Haisla First Nation and an outreach worker, Harry seeks out other Haisla people who are struggling with drug use and homelessness in the Downtown Eastside.
He offers them support, and lets them know that they're not alone.
"You're in one of the most unforgiving places in North America and you're 1,400 kilometres away from your hometown [in northern B.C.]," Harry said.
"Just the fact that they know that their nation is behind them is huge."
Sometimes, when Harry meets other Haisla people in the Downtown Eastside, he strikes up a brief conversation. Other times, he encourages them to seek treatment or to go to a homeless shelter.
'We all deserve to heal'
The majority of the Haisla Nation live in Kitimat, B.C., but Harry estimates about 35 members live in the Downtown Eastside.
Harry says many of them have turned to alcohol and drugs to escape from trauma caused by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
"They've made their way down here, and they feel alone, they feel lost, they feel what they have here and where they live — this is what they deserve, and that's farthest from the truth," he said.
"I'm a true believer that we all deserve to heal."
Finding hope amid the opioid crisis
The Downtown Eastside has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, which has already claimed 12,800 lives across Canada since 2016.
In the two years that Harry has been an outreach worker, he says a couple of Haisla members he connected with have died of opioid overdoses.
Harry says the deaths have made him question whether he is doing enough to support his people.
"It does get overwhelming," he said.
"So when my own people come, and they're able to trust me, and they're able to know that I'm there when they're ready, that tells me there's hope."