Saskatchewan has led the country in the rate of new HIV infections and the proportion of people living with HIV since 2009. The HIV epidemic in this province is unique from other jurisdictions in Canada in that more than three-quarters of our new infections occur in people who use injection drugs (the Canadian average is less than 14%).
This past year the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) held its annual gathering, on the theme of “transforming wholistic approaches to Indigenous health.”
It’s a gathering of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, combining a business meeting, a gathering of Aboriginal people with HIV/AIDS, and the ‘Wise Practices’ research conference.
But more importantly, it is a gathering of colleagues who have become friends, clients who have become peers, people with HIV who have become community leaders, and an extended family. Also present are elders welcoming delegates to their traditional lands, and children – the younger ones mostly playing with each other and the older children learning and participating with their moms.
Lack of access to HIV treatment and care among other complex factors contributes to these alarming rates: in many rural or remote areas, HIV-specific services are simply not available, or the small size of the community creates concerns around confidentiality for those accessing care. Indigenous people in Canada — many of whom are surviving a legacy of colonization and the intergenerational effects of residential schools — continue to experience systemic discrimination and extremely high rates of incarceration. In this context, the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure may be perceived as yet another form of institutionalized violence and discrimination, amplifying the negative impact of the HIV epidemic on Indigenous communities.
By Sarah Flicker and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Taking Action II is a community-based action research project about building and supporting Indigenous youth leadership in the HIV/AIDS movement. We are a group of Indigenous youth leaders, Indigenous community-based organizations and university-based researchers. We wanted to create awareness around HIV, sexual health, and decolonization in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Turtle Island (also known as Canada).
In Taking Action I, we worked with over 100 youth in six Indigenous communities across Canada to make art about the links between HIV and colonization. We did this as a way of broadening the conversations about HIV – to move away from the individual shame-and-blame discourse. We wanted to help communities understand and respond back to all the structural factors that have conspired to make them vulnerable to HIV: racism, poverty, land theft, residential schools, loss of language/culture, epidemics of addiction, the Sixties Scoop (the practice of taking Indigenous children and placing them in foster homes beginning in the 1960s) and ongoing child welfare involvement, incarceration, etc. Youth created a lot of amazing art that took up these themes. They loved our workshops and asked for more opportunities to get together with youth from other communities.