By Ken Clement
Affirming community action and community solidarity in responding to HIV set the stage for a gathering of Aboriginal people in Halifax, NS for the launch of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week 2013 in Canada (December 1 – 6, 2013).
On December 1, 2013, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) co-hosted an Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week Launch Event in partnership with Healing Our Nations. Gathering together on World AIDS Day, Aboriginal communities will join in sharing knowledge, research, expertise and work currently underway in response to Aboriginal HIV and AIDS issues in Canada. This coming together of cultural, social, health and political events during Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week is a demonstration of the importance of dedicated attention to the Aboriginal HIV and AIDS agenda – and affirms that everyone can contribute to creating change in their own communities.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit make up a unique segment of the concentrated HIV and AIDS epidemic in Canada. Aboriginal Peoples are living with HIV and AIDS and at a rate 3.6 times higher than other Canadians – 8.9% of all people living with HIV and 12.2% of all new HIV infections in Canada are Aboriginal according to 2011 status report from the Public Health Agency of Canada. This reality is linked to various factors and determinants of health, including poverty, housing insecurity, childhood experiences, access to health services, support networks and social environments, and experiences with trauma and violence. Racism, generational impacts of colonialism and the residential school system are also key influences in creating vulnerability to HIV in Aboriginal communities.
This Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week launch brought together national Aboriginal organizations, government partners and health care providers, and community members they serve, to dialogue, network, make new connections, and build on their understandings of the key influences driving HIV infection rates among Aboriginal people and wise practices for responding to these. Community-based responses in all communities are one way we can begin to address the circumstances that underlie HIV infection rates.
Each person in a community has a part to play in creating change; everyone can take action. Everyone is important – we all have something to contribute – we can all be leaders in responding to HIV and AIDS for all our relations. We can be bridge-builders. We can create inclusive communities. We can support people ‘where they are at’ and work from a place of non-judgmental. We can constructively respond to acts of intolerance and discrimination. We can create safe spaces to talk about our community strengths and needs, and how to work within these realities. What can you do to change how Aboriginal people live with HIV and AIDS?
It’s time for you to do your part for all Aboriginal families living with HIV and AIDS. The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network asks you to make a difference – to understand: Getting to Zero. Zero new Infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AID related deaths… and challenge yourself about what YOU can do to get to ZERO by acknowledging and supporting Aboriginal AIDS Awareness throughout the year.
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network