Vancouver Native Health Society was established in 1991 to address the lack of healthcare for urban Indigenous people in Greater Vancouver, with a mission to improve and sustain the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of individuals. The philosophy of VNHS was founded on an Indigenous understanding of the deep connection between individual well-being and community; good health in one is essential to good health in the other.

VNHS quickly grew from its start as an after-hours medical clinic in order to provide services and programs to meet the needs of a client base struggling with overlapping social challenges and con-current health issues such as substance abuse, mental health, chronic disease, homelessness and poverty. Due to the increasing demand for our services, we have expanded tremendously in all service delivery. Today, VNHS delivers comprehensive medical, counselling and social services generally to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Indigenous community.

The complicated and burdensome funding structure between Federal and Provincial governments and organizations continues to impede attempts to create or sustain programmes and services, particularly those that go beyond medical services and address the social determinants of health. For socio-economic reasons it takes longer for our clients and patients to feel the benefits of medical care and social programs, due to the resulting health issues and high-risk environments their circumstances create. Meaningful results from programs and services can take years to emerge and funding report deadlines are often too early, risking the elimination of essential services before they can show real impact. More significantly, the defining of ‘progress’ is most often left to non-Indigenous funding providers, effectively disregarding Indigenous understandings of health and wellness. Much more needs to be done to protect Indigenous culture from tokenism so that quality health services and culture can exist simultaneously.

Nevertheless, VNHS is constantly working toward the holistic approach to wellness that was originally conceptualized.

VNHS has created a “culture of caring”, in which judgemental thinking is released in favour of acceptance and support. The ideal relationship between an employee of the society and a client is not one-way but reciprocal, with each person able to learn from the other and feel more connected. This is achieved by a community that is not limited to providing the basic requirements for people’s physical health, but one that is also able to offer a welcoming and comfortable space for people to be, connect, and grow.