Getting to Know… Judy Mitchell

Hello again. Today I have the pleasure of introducing Judy Mitchell who joined PWN the beginning of July 2016. We are very fortunate to have Judy on our team – what an intriguing woman! And these are just a few questions. I can only imagine what other stories she has to share. I look forward to getting to know her better and I think you will too.

What is your position at PWN? How would you describe this job to someone unfamiliar with PWN?

I am the Indigenous Women’s Support Program Coordinator…serving all women at PWN. This position is a partnership between Red Road HIV/AIDS Network Society and Positive Women’s Network. The program provides a culturally safe place where Indigenous women can hear Aboriginal Elders and mentors – including women with lived experience – teach about various aspects of our culture and where you can connect with others to build healthy relationships.
We host weekly Kitchen Table Meetings where participants learn how to incorporate more cultural practices into their daily lives. We also host 12 Knowledge Gatherings per year (knowledge on cultural practices and prevention health methods) as well as peer-led monthly support groups for those who identify as Indigenous or Aboriginal women living with HIV. These support groups are facilitated in partnership with Oak Tree Clinic.
We welcome women to visit us on-site or to call us at any time (visit: 614-1033 Davie Street, Vancouver or phone: 604-692-3008).

What is your background? Why do you work with PWN? Why not another community?

I am a member of the Tla’Amin Nation (Powell River, BC) on the Sunshine Coast. It is a community of approximately 1000 nation members (600 living on-reserve/400 living out-of-town/off-reserve), located just outside the town of Powell River, BC. I have 4 brothers & 3 sisters (from two families). I lost a younger brother tragically in a car accident on Vancouver Island in 1987; he was 17 years old. I grew up on-reserve until the age of 18 and also upon graduation from high school. I then left to Vancouver Island to begin my post-education.
I was lucky to have two culturally traditional parents who worked outside of our home all of our lives and strongly encouraged our post-secondary education. My father was the Chief of our nation for 13 years and my mom was a Community Health Nurse. I am a mother of two sons, one aged 26 years and the other aged 9 years. My educational background is in Drug & Alcohol and Sexual Abuse/Family Violence Counselling. My work background has included working with First Nations Youth (in BC & AB), Indian Residential School Survivors, HIV/AIDS-Healing Our Spirit, and Family Support (Women).
I work with PWN because I believe all women need as much support as they can possibly get. With the added challenges of living HIV+, with addictions, marginalized and/or Indigenous, life can be a big struggle. Add to this, living in a big city, possibly with children, and it can be downright overwhelming. If the programs at Positive Women’s Network can make some of these women’s lives just a little bit easier then I believe we are doing our jobs. I am also a woman with lived-experience, and not all of it was good. I can relate to the struggles some of the women face and hope I can offer programming that encourages positive outcomes.

Besides PWN, you’re also doing other work in the community. Are you comfortable sharing a bit about this work? How it impacts your work with PWN?

I also work with Red Road HIV/AIDS Network Society. We hosted a workshop on Sept. 19th & 20th at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. It was entitled “Pathways to Wholeness” and the gathering contributed to the holistic development and wellness of First Nations individuals, families and communities by providing tools and resources for healing. It included guest speakers such as Dr. Lee Brown from the Cherokee Nation, sharing 9 Principles imperative to Indigenous health & healing; the First Nations Health Authority, sharing Indigenous wellness and culture around sexual health; AIDS Vancouver Island; and an Indigenous Support Services Panel which included reps from PWN, Red Road, Vancouver Native Health & Cowichan Tribes. Self-care Reiki sessions were also provided. We worked hard and I enjoyed meeting new people at this workshop.
Many of the Indigenous women living in Vancouver come from other cities and communities. I have lived in many cities and visited many first nation communities on Vancouver Island and on the mainland. I know people from all of these communities. I find this very helpful; I have no problem getting in contact with resource workers or family members if need be.

What excites you about PWN?

Many Indigenous people living in the city have grown up without cultural practices to fall back on when times get tough, as they always do. My hope for this program is to provide Elders, resources and teachings around praying, smudging, brushing, making medicine bags, bundles, anything we can provide that women can use for instance when they are faced with crisis or challenges and our offices are not open. Something they can turn to, especially each other, that would be ideal.
We have a peer-led support group which started on September 21st in Room #103, facilitated by Flo Ranville.
Our Indigenous Women’s Advisory Group, who meet a couple of times a month, are in the beginning stages of planning a 4-day Land-Based Retreat specifically for Indigenous HIV+ women, from throughout BC. This is to take place in March of 2017 and will in the lower mainland. Of course, more information will be provided as we move through the planning stages.
I am excited for the coming months and the year ahead. I’m very happy to be here and look forward to meeting all of you. We can never have enough positive women in our lives!

One more very important question: When it comes to the issue of chocolate, do you prefer dark, milk or the controversial white chocolate?

Milk chocolate, all the way!! 😃

Interview by Monique Desroches