A panel of Indigenous people living with HIV spoke at the Health Canada National Conference in 1991 and laid the seeds for the creation of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN).
When the early indicators that a never-before-seen virus was affecting the gay male population in cities like San Francisco and New York, Indigenous gay men in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver were also being exposed to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society (Canada’s first Indigenous LGBTQ+ organization founded in 1977) experienced the brunt of infections and resulting AIDS cases among their membership. In 1991, Health Canada addressed the issue of Indigenous people and HIV and AIDS by hosting a national conference in Vancouver, BC.
A panel of Indigenous people living with HIV spoke at the conference and laid the seeds for the creation of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN). By the mid-90s, there were Indigenous AIDS service organizations (ASOs) like All Nations Hope AIDS Network (SK); Healing Our Spirit Society (BC); Feather of Hope society (AB); Manitoba Aboriginal AIDS Task Force (MB); Healing Our Nations (NS), and allied agencies like the National Indian and Inuit Community Health Representatives Organization (NIICHRO) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).
In 1994, the Indigenous ASOs partnered with CAS to undertake governance development and CAAN was eventually incorporated as a national, non-profit ASO in 1997.
CAAN opened an office in downtown Ottawa and functioned there until 2010 when the national office was moved to Vancouver, BC. A national skills-building component was added to their annual general meeting as well as a full-day meeting of the Indigenous people living with HIV and AIDS (IPHA) caucus. CAAN was also a key member of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS (NACHA) from 2000-2018 and helped establish the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV/AIDS (IIWGHA) in 2006.
CAAN began building its capacity to do community-based research (CBR) in the early 2000s by choosing to work with academic allies who were willing to include training components into the projects we partnered on. In 2005, we officially established our Research Unit, but it wasn’t until 2012 that CAAN was deemed an institution eligible to hold CIHR funds. In 2012, CAAN also saw the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Collaborative Centre (AHA Centre) funded. The AHA Centre provides in-person and virtual supports to CBR efforts in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities across the land.
In July of 2020, CAAN moved its national office to the Treaty 4 Traditional Territory in Saskatchewan—the original lands of the Cree, Ojibwe (OJIB-WĒ), Saulteaux (SO-TO), Dakota, Nakota, Lakota, and the homeland of the Métis Nation. This move continues to ground the work of CAAN in a land-based, cultural context that supports Indigenous healing, cultural safety, and autonomy.