PI: Carol Hopkins (Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, ON) and Chris Mushquash (Lakehead University, ON)

Leadership Group: Amy Bombay (Dalhousie University, NS); Colleen Dell (University of Saskatchewan, SK); Julie Bull (CAMH, ON); Lindsey Farrell (University of BC, BC); Renee Linklater (CAMH, ON)


Opioid misuse has become a public health concern in Canada and has emerged as a critical issue for First Nation peoples. For First Nation peoples, opioid misuse and other wellness challenges are a direct result of the lasting impacts of the attempted destruction of cultures, language, connection to land, and family (colonization); and, the trauma that has been facilitated through institutions of colonization such as the Indian Act, reserve system, Indian Agents, Residential Schools, and Child Welfare, that are passed down from grandparents to parents and to youth (intergenerational trauma). These factors combined with health and wellness access and availability barriers have the potential to put First Nation peoples at a greater risk than the general Canadian population for opioid misuse.

However, reconnecting with First Nation cultures has been proven to be a facilitator in the recovery from addictions (such as opioids) and improves overall wellness.

Hope for their future and those of their families that is grounded in a sense of identity, unique Indigenous values, and having a belief in spirit; a sense of belonging and connectedness within their families, to community, and to culture; and finally a sense of meaning and an understanding of how their lives and those of their families and communities are part of creation and a rich history, and purpose in their daily lives whether it is through giving back to in their family/community, through education, employment, care-giving activities, or cultural ways of being and doing.

Primary Research Question

What are the OAT practices (protocols/standards/strategies) including use of medical cannabis for First Nations clients in community-based and residential treatment centres?

Additional Questions

  • Who are the workforce and what resources are required to support such; 
  • Who are the partners who support OAT – including addictions specialists and Elders / cultural practitioners, and how do they practice OAT in a First Nations environment; 
  • What are the knowledge and skills needed to support OAT in a First Nations environment; 
  • What are the additional cultural and psychological supports needed to address intergenerational trauma and at what point in treatment is this most effective5. What are the cultural protocols for supporting OAT; 6. What are the indicators used to measure outcomes of OAT. 

Project Components

Opioid-Agonist Therapy (OAT) and Crystal Meth Guidelines

Thunderbird Partnership Foundation is funded by the Canadian Research Institute in Substance Misuse to develop Opioid Agonist Treatment Guidelines for First Nations governed, community-based and residential treatment-based services. This project is guided by a working group comprised of First Nations Elders, subject matter experts, healthcare providers, etc.

Community Engagement

Thunderbird Partnership Foundation will be traveling to a minimum of 5 First Nations governed, community-based services and 10 NNADAP/NYSAP residential treatment centres to understand how these programs can assist First Nations clients who use opioids. These conversations will be guided by the questions below and will also focus on the collaboration between conventional OAT and First Nations culture-based practices. As a response to emerging community needs, these conversations will also highlight the need for addressing crystal meth and the relationship between crystal meth and opioids.