By Dylan Richards
Working as an educator in the area of HIV prevention, there are always areas of tension and debate that arise – new prevention developments, medical advancements, and the ever-present weight of stigma and discrimination for those living with HIV. But for me, none are as heartbreaking as the fact that some communities are disproportionately affected: not because of biology, but because of all of the other factors that contribute to a person’s health – poverty, housing, discrimination, access to health care, etc. As an Anishinaabe man, the weight of HIV on Aboriginal peoples hits me very close to home. The legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, the continued marginalization of Aboriginal peoples through the reserve system, and the horrors of generational trauma mean that, for many Aboriginal peoples, the deck is stacked against them before they even enter the world.
Every 3 hours a person is infected with HIV in Canada – 12% of those are Aboriginal people, even though they represent only 4% of the Canadian population. First Nations, Métis, and Inuit continue to respond to HIV and AIDS with community-based initiatives, but are still over-represented and experiencing epidemic proportions 3.6 times higher than other Canadians. In some provinces, this proportion rivals that of countries where HIV is considered endemic.
But there is something we can do to change this story.
This year, Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (AAAW) takes place on November 30, December 2 – 5, 2015. Throughout the week, workshops will be held across the country (Ottawa, Regina, Montreal, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Inuvik) to continue discussions on Aboriginal HIV and AIDS issues in Canada. For the first time, the launch of AAAW 2015 (hosted by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, or CAAN) will take place in Calgary, AB on December 1, 2015 – World AIDS Day.
AAAW 2015 events connect national Aboriginal organizations, government partners, health care providers, and community leaders to focus on how we will work together to reach the goal of “Getting to Zero” – Zero new HIV infections, Zero stigma and discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths.
Ken Clement, CEO of CAAN, stated, “Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week will be done a justice by closing the gap amongst Aboriginal people who live with HIV and AIDS, and by Aboriginal people getting tested so that they may know their status. Creating community readiness and culturally safe approaches to testing, treatment, and support is the roadmap for the journey to zero.”
Each of us, regardless of skin colour, accent, place of birth, gender, sexuality, etc., can be and are affected by HIV but, the unfortunate reality of the world we live in places some peoples far more likely than others to be directly impacted. We must take the time to think of each other complexly and recognize that we are partners on this planet, meant to extend a hand and support one another. This, more than anything, is why movements like Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week are so important – because it makes space for us to hear each other’s stories and work to write a better chapter together.
If you would like to learn more about Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week, please click here.