VIDEO: Vigil held in Nelson to mark International Overdose Awareness Day

Duncan Grady, an elder with the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society, offers a prayer Monday during a ceremony marking International Overdose Awareness Day. Photos: Tyler Harper
ANKORS built a coffin and set up 175 pairs of shoes to symbolize the 175 people who died due to overdose in B.C. in July. Photos: Tyler Harper
An invite-only vigil took place later in the day at Cottonwood Park. Photos: Tyler Harper
Names of people who have died were written on hearts and pinned to a tree at the vigil. Photos: Tyler Harper

As Amber Streukens began sticking dots on the board, she started asking herself questions.

Why, she wondered, were so many people still dying of overdoses in B.C. over four years after a public health emergency had been declared? Why did the provincial response to the opioid crisis not appear to match the one to COVID-19? Whose lives were being prioritized?

When she was finished, Streukens had placed 5,635 coloured dots on a board that was her contribution to International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday. Each of the dots represented a life lost to overdose in B.C. since the health emergency was declared on April 14, 2016.

“Many times I was like, why are we doing this? This is so utterly painful,” she said. “But then drawing back to that each one of these dots was somebody’s someone, was somebody’s brother, sister, mother, cousin, aunt, lover. It began to feel really nourishing to go through it with care.”

Streukens, who works as a harm reduction peer health navigator for ANKORS, said the crisis has left her frustrated and tired. But putting the dots on her board, she said, reminded her why she keeps fighting for lives.

“There are definitely times when you bump up against total frustration and futility. But remembering these are each vibrant, beautiful members of our community makes it easier to come back tomorrow.”

The annual event comes after B.C. recorded its worst ever month for deaths due to suspected illicit overdoses with 175 in July, or nearly six people per day. Through July there have already been 909 deaths in the province, according to the BC Coroners Service.

Of the 7,934 deaths since 2010, 50 have occurred in the Nelson, Castlegar and Trail areas through May 31. Nineteen of those were in the Nelson area.

Related: BC Coroners Service: 50 people have died of overdoses in Nelson, Castlegar, Trail since 2010

On Monday, ANKORS set up 175 empty pairs of shoes to symbolize the July deaths as well as a coffin built by ANKORS staff member Alex Sherstobitoff in the parking lot outside its office at 101 Baker St. A candlelight vigil was also later held at Cottonwood Park.

Joseph Reiner, ANKORS’ West Kootenay prevention and education co-ordinator, said the organization wanted passersby to think about the crisis.

“We felt working with peers that the overdose crisis has gone unnoticed for far too long,” said Reiner. “So we wanted to make a bold statement.”

Related:

New study calls for new approach to tackling overdose crisis

ANKORS to hold 72-hour art slam fundraiser

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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