BRIAN’S NUAA BOARD STORY: THIS IS MY COMMUNITY
I’ve watched my family die from substance use – there’s actually an average life span of 35 - 40 years in my family, especially among men. It made me realise how important harm reduction is and I want those tools in the hands of Aboriginal people.
My experiences inspired me to work as an Aboriginal Health Education Worker and I was proud to spend 10 years at a quality service. But by the time left, I had a book full of people who had passed on over the years. At least half of them were Aboriginal. Given that only 10 - 15% of the users we saw at the service were Aboriginal, this is an outrageous inequity. I was finding it harder and harder to deal with the deaths.
During this period, I was getting a lot of support from NUAA workers. They understood why I cared for my community so deeply and why each death hurt and reconnected me to the death of my own family members.
I eventually went to work at NUAA as a Peer Worker in a service out west. Working for NUAA was a wonderful experience and I developed some rich friendships. I felt so cared for there. Many services seem to focus on a medical and academic approach to drug use, but NUAA is all about people -- about compassion, understanding and respect. I have always felt valued by NUAA and never felt like I was different -- I was just part of the family.
When I realised I needed to work at something entirely different for a while and got a job outside of the Drug and Alcohol sector, a NUAA staff member suggested I join the Board to keep my connection. That reminded me that I could still be a useful, caring member of our community even though I was not working on the front line. And it meant a lot to me that another member of our community suggested it to me. She told me that she thought I would be a good Board member partly because she admired the work I had done over the years, but mostly because I was a warm and sensitive pathfinder, not just for Aboriginal people who used drugs but for all people who used drugs. That made me feel wonderful not just about myself, but about the qualities valued by NUAA.
So I put my name forward and I attended the Annual General Meeting to speak up and say why I wanted to be a Board member and found myself elected. And every month I front up at the meetings and will continue to do so as long as I am needed.
For me, being a Board member is about finding a way to keep contributing to NUAA. This is such an important organisation because we “get it”. I’m on the Board to help keep NUAA safe and viable, to make sure we keep on getting it. I want to support NUAA’s work in the community even though I can’t work directly with the community at the moment.
But more specifically and more personally, it’s about that book I have that is full of people who used drugs who have passed on. It is always going to be with me. Being on the NUAA board is about not wanting anyone else to fill up a book of RIPs of people who use drugs.