5 Questions with Carlene Dingwall, PAN’s Mental Health/Substance Use & HCV Program Manager

Carlene is a former staff member of PAN.

Carlene head shotCarlene Dingwall is the coordinator of PAN’s Mental Health, Substance Use and HIV/HCV committee. She is currently living in Kelowna (for a couple of more months) before she heads back to the north. She is currently finishing an interdisciplinary PhD focused on intergenerational trauma and healing.


  1. What first piqued your interest in the HIV sector?

I was working as a program coordinator for Aboriginal youth at the Friendship Centre in Prince George. We brought in some excellent educators from AIDS Prince George to teach about HIV/AIDS and sexual health which also opened my eyes to the reality of HIV/AIDS in our community. I was shocked and also very concerned about the potential of this virus to wreak havoc in the north. When some of the youth began to contract HIV, I wanted to get involved and do what I could to help. It was very clear that the impact of colonization and oppression was at the core of the explosion of the epidemic in the region. A colleague at the time said, “The only good thing about HIV was that it was shining a light into the dirty secret of colonization.” And it was true. A lot of people died unnecessarily in the north because of racism and the stigma surrounding HIV.


  1. How do you see the impact of your work in the “real world”?

I suppose that I see myself as a part of a large network of people who are passionate about social justice and that by sharing and working together, we can collectively effect change. In this I bring a devout interest in mental health and well-being because these are things that impact everyone. And there still is so much stigma around it and a lot of mystic about therapeutic strategies that can make such a difference in people’s lives. I learned so much in Indigenous communities about the importance of relationships and holistic approaches. Still Indigenous perspectives and knowledge about mental health are often devalued in western mental health systems and practices. I believe that if all mental health services and supports adopted a holistic, Indigenous approach, those services would not only be accessible, they would be much more helpful in addressing the underlying suffering that is at the core of many mental health problems.

  1. How do you engage the community in your work?

As a doctoral student, I have been immersed in the world of academia for a long time. I like this world and I like learning. But like many Aboriginal people, I see the training and tools of higher learning and research important in so far as they can actually make a difference in our communities. “Engaging the community” is a lived experience. It’s about connecting and relationships and history and laughing and crying and being together through it all.

  1. If you had unlimited funds, which area would you invest in?

I would invest in wilderness healing camps. A place where a person could go (for free) to learn about and practice healing strategies while being connected to the natural environment.

  1. If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with and why?

A real nice singing voice. As a gift to my friends and family when I bust out the guitar and try to belt out a tune.