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Culture Saves Lives

Trevor Jang on the movement that's shaping the lives of First Nations people for the better

There’s a movement happening in Vancouver’s inner city that’s reconnecting First Nations people to culture and shaping their lives for the better.

Culture Saves Lives is exactly what it sounds like.

“I just wanted to lift the hearts and the spirits of our people who live in the inner city,” said Patrick Smith, founder of the grassroots movement.

It was a simple idea – to create large-scale native art pieces and hang them up all over the city.

“We just got some hoola hoops, ripped it in red cloth and tied it in the shape of a Medicine Wheel,” Patrick explained.

“Just to draw awareness to the fact that yes, culture saves your lives. That’s what we need.”

But that initial idea has bloomed into so much more.

Now the Culture Saves Lives group organizes drum circles and sharing circles, Powwow’s and Sweat Lodge ceremonies, all in an effort to reconnect First Nations people to their culture.

Paula Potter is an elder who works and volunteers in the Downtown Eastside community. I met her at a knowledge sharing circle hosted by the group. Afterwards she told me that culture continues to save her life every day.

“Patrick was there when I used to inject,” she shared. “But now I’m five years clean and a Sun Dancer.”

Paula also shared her personal struggles of battling grief and loss.

 “I lost my son who committed suicide after he started using heroine… and culture is what’s keeping me going.”

Culture has the power to do so much for us. It can provide meaning, purpose and love. Culture is also tied to our identity, which as young people we are constantly searching for. But with movements like Culture Saves Lives, it becomes much easier to find guidance, support and beauty.

For more information on the movement, visit the Culture Saves Lives Facebook page or website

Trevor Jang is a reporter for Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver. 

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