A special thanks to our Board of Directors for their guidance and support throughout the year. Your dedication is always appreciated. And to the team, aka staff, your dedication to the issues and great work ethic are what keep us moving forward each day in this field; your commitment never goes unnoticed. As all of you are aware by now, the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) carrying delegates to AIDS 2014 cast a sombre shadow over the entire conference. I think I speak for everyone that arrived safely when I say that the lost ones were in our hearts with each day of the conference that went by.
Despite this tragedy, the International Indigenous Pre-Conference was highly successful with Indigenous people from Australia making us welcome to their traditional territory. Workshops and presentations included various topics that impact Indigenous people, e.g. harm reduction, women and girls’ issues and two-spirit issues.
Another highlight was the cultural sharing by different Indigenous peoples from the country. It was truly a time of cultural pride and celebration as the people shared their rich traditions. We were moved by a 15-year-old from New Zealand who embraced the teachings of the conference. Upon our return, his mother reported that they were truly honoured and humbled that we took the time to recognize him at the gathering.
We were also fortunate to have met with Canada’s Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, at AIDS 2014. CAAN was represented at the meetings with her and she was open and engaging about Aboriginal HIV and AIDS issues. We will provide a summary to her on our discussion as follow-up.
As a recognized leader in Canada and amongst international Indigenous communities and related organizations, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) has benefitted greatly through the knowledge transfer at gatherings like the International AIDS Conference, national forums and community meetings. In addition to the support of the government, we are grateful for the support of domestic organizations, demonstrated through the various Memorandums of Understanding signed with national Aboriginal groups like the Assembly of First Nations, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centres, and National Partners.
The International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) ensures that these types of connections and partnerships thrive globally. IIWGHA enables our executive to network with Indigenous communities around the world to share wise practices and promote culturally appropriate knowledge transfer in the area of combating the HIV and AIDS vulnerabilities that make us susceptible to infection.
These factors include: “poverty, marginalization, lack of political and social power, fragmentation of family and community relationships, geographical isolation, low literacy rates, poor general health, limited access to health care, drug use/injection, and low community and individual self esteem“(UNAIDS, 2006 in Health Canada, 2009). As a result, Indigenous peoples are over-represented in the HIV epidemic, in Canada and around the world. Despite this over-representation, Aboriginal Indigenous peoples have had limited opportunity to come together to discuss their common issues, to support each other, and to share best practices. As a summary of AIDS 2014, on behalf of IIWGHA, the National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS (NACHA), and CAAN, we have highlighted the issues that were raised for you to review.
1. IIWGHA Preconference
The success of the preconference on Indigenous HIV issues stems in part from the leadership of various government and non-government organizations that support Indigenous people. CAAN is a leading organization in this mix.
- The preconference was co-hosted by CAAN and IIWGHA and showcased the cooperative partnership we have maintained since 2006;
- As membership of the International AIDS Society (IAS) Planning Committee that will be hosted in Vancouver in July 2015, CAAN and IIWGHA are vital to providing Indigenous engagement and inclusion;
- It is critical that dialogue is included with other health ministers and Indigenous people to provide human, technical and financial support to become engaged with IIWGHA;
- That a stronger linkage to HIV prevention and spread is included at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and that UN leaders are encouraged to support the Indigenous participation at all levels of policy development.
- An agreement was made that IIWGHA continue to lead and advocate for Indigenous HIV and AIDS issues, internationally and in Canadian;
- IIWGHA will continue to work closely with governmental counterparts to ensure the Indigenous voice is heard and individual and community needs are met;
- We will continue promoting partnerships and collaborations and encouraging governments with Indigenous populations to establish these minorities as key groups in HIV response (epi calculation systems and funding); and,
- There is a critical need of ongoing financial support for IIWGHA so the organization can share their holistic approach through the lens of HIV with their international counterparts.
3. AIDS 2014
IIWGHA has worked tirelessly to have Indigenous issues woven into the conference, but with limited success. Case in point was the exclusion of any references to Indigenous HIV issues at the opening and the one track at the Preliminary session. Addressing this issue is key to prevention and lessening the spread of the disease, as Indigenous people are a keystone group. The inclusion of IIWGHA at the Global Village increases networking opportunities and highlights the work done in Canada.
CAAN is also a member of National Aboriginal Council on HIV and AIDS (NACHA), which provides policy advice to the federal government on Aboriginal HIV and AIDS issues. We work together and have common members to ensure issues are streamlined with cohesive actions and clear roles/relationships. The practice of Treatment as Prevention (TasP) was suggested along with the request for an increase in Aboriginal consultation and more freedom around the release of information and results. Other suggestions included:
- Increasing support around issues faced by women and girls, whose demographics are more vulnerable to systematic stigma and discrimination that puts them at greater risk;
- The sharing of a wholistic model through the lens of HIV;
- The dispersal of the Smart Button with shared stigma and discrimination video clips;
- The impacts on health through resource extraction; and,
- Developing a strategic plan to combat the high rates of infection with Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal populations.
5. The United Nations
Maori leader and Co-Chair of the IIWGHA Research sub-committee, Dr. Clive Aspin, presented to the UN International Expert Group Meeting on Sexual health and reproductive rights: articles 21, 22 (1), 23 and 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on behalf of IIWGHA in January 2014. His address raised issues faced by Indigenous Peoples related to HIV, overall health and legacy of colonial policy. The EGM was a direct result of a joint-statement submitted by IIWGHA when representatives attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in May of 2013. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) partnered with IIWGHA to host a side event at the UNPFII on HIV and sexual health with an emphasis on youth issues. IIWGHA and NYSHN encouraged the delegates to address Indigenous HIV issues. Our engagement at the UNPFII helped IIWGHA to ground this work in Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous concepts of health and Indigenous wise practices. Ken Clement from Canada, Elisa Canqui from Bolivia and Michael Costello from Australia served as IIWGHA leaders who raised the profile of HIV & AIDS at the UNPFII.
- Greater emphasis on women and youth issues was discussed;
- CAAN will continue to work as Secretariat in supporting international work with Indigenous people;
- A business plan was presented that could include IIWGHA as an independent NGO but this will require foundational work before proceeding; and,
- UNAIDS – A business plan is being prepared by IIWGHA suggesting that UNAIDS create 3 new positions for Indigenous issues in the areas of leadership, community and science based loosely around the 3 priority areas at International AIDS Conferences.
6. 21st IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion
From August 25th to 29th, 2013, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) and Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) hosted the 21st IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion in Pattaya, Thailand. IIWGHA was present. Dr. Aspin, of the Indigenous Research Fellow at Bullana, the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, presented again at this conference. This forum aimed to contribute to the development of equity and social justice across the globe by offering a unique platform for dialogue on the best investments for health between participants from various sectors from around the world. The Indigenous Sub-plenary, titled “Indigenous Leadership in the Development of Health Promotion: Achieving Health Equity Through Partnerships and Community Engagement,” included presentations on community-based health promotion in response to high rates of HIV among Indigenous peoples; Indigenous Health Promotion Competencies; and community-led interventions to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It featured Indigenous speakers from Canada, host Thailand and other nations.
7. Risk Reduction
The suggestion that on-reserve communities be provided with safe injection supplies was advised, as it is not the current practice and appears to contradict policy. We know we are making tremendous progress in raising awareness within government and health organizations of different patterns of infection in Indigenous communities and the need to respond in culturally appropriate ways that will greatly increase the effectiveness of approach with those most affected. CAAN has operated as an overarching entity that works at policy level, ensures that responses are streamlined rather than overlapping between other Indigenous groups and provides culturally appropriate educational materials, along with training, to Indigenous communities across Canada. We have been internationally recognized for our effectiveness in bringing IIWGHA to a higher level and are keen to continue in this role. Ours is a big mandate at a critical time in the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS in the world. While there is a host of contributing factors for the spread of the disease within Indigenous communities, we have reached a pivotal point in finding solutions. Inclusion of Indigenous voices and viewpoints through CAAN and IIWGHA is integral to solving this major health issue. After a summer packed full of events and networking, we are thrilled to begin our work on this year’s Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (AAAW) planning. As always, visit us at www.caan.ca for up-to-date info on resources and events. In Solidarity, Ken Clement, CEO