By Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator

Did you know that Indigenous Peoples largely represent the most marginalized and poorest subpopulations, not only in Canada, but also in the entire world? This truth became clearer to me here in Bangkok, Thailand during my participation at the 21st IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion hosted by the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

The good news is that the International Network of Indigenous Health Promotion Professionals (INIHPP) has been working very hard to address this imbalance. As a result, this year Indigenous voices were heard loud and clear at the conference through two Indigenous themes.

One way that Indigenous voices were heard was through an Indigenous Health Promotion Sub-Plenary called ”Indigenous leadership in the development of health promotion: achieving health equity through partnerships and community engagement”. The session 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, and featured Indigenous speakers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, host Thailand and other nations.

A four-day Indigenous stream “Idea Factory” workshop series ran through the length of the conference titled Sharing Success Stories in Indigenous Health Promotion.  The participation of the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA) had a profound impact at the conference through the Indigenous venues generously provided by the IUHPE.

Clive Aspin, Māori IIWGHA Leader, and I delivered an oral presentation about establishing and maintaining IIWGHA as the opening to an Infectious Disease Session, the first in the series of four Indigenous Leadership in the Development of Health Promotion workshops. This session consisted of presentations with cross cutting themes delivered by indigenous health promotion practitioners, academics, advocates and policy makers from five countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and the US. The audience formed into break out groups to discuss what has worked well and what did not work well for them in their work in order to exchange knowledge.

I presented on the work of IIWGHA on two other occasions as well. One oral presentation was titled HIV and Indigenous Peoples: Contextualizing the Experience for the third session in the Building on our Successes workshop series. My second presentation ended with a question for the audience of Indigenous professionals: What kinds of approaches to research and epidemiologic data gathering are required to provide the most effective evidence to show heightened Indigenous vulnerability to HIV/AIDS?

IIWGHA was at the conference to learn from Indigenous experts. But IIWGHA and its Leaders have a lot to offer the world as well. At a meeting of the recently formalized INIHPP, I was asked to share some of the successes and challenges in formalizing IIWGHA. INIHPP members listened intently as I described how the Leaders overcome the great communication gap between the north and the south, between Spanish and English speakers, between well-financed HIV responses and those with no funding whatsoever. Neo-colonialism has also created barriers that must be constantly addressed.

This work is a labour of love. The International Indigenous health community can learn a lot from the work of IIWGHA. And IIWGHA’s learning curve is a steep climb as well. By honouring our ancestors, our future generations, our languages, our land, all our relations and honouring creator we can continue to push this giant boulder uphill – TOGETHER.

IUHPE – The International Union of Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE), as a global professional Organization in the field of health promotion, organizes triennial World Conferences on Health Promotion which represent one of the largest events for policy makers, advocates, researchers, academics, practitioners and interested parties from all over the world, to share and exchange their knowledge and work in health promotion and related fields.

INIHPP – The development in 2009 of the International Network of Indigenous Health Promotion Professionals (INIHPP) was in line with past Indigenous Resolutions at the IUHPE. Since 2004 IUHPE members have recognized disparities in outcomes between Indigenous peoples and the dominant cultures where they reside. Also recognized through IUHPE resolutions are the distinct needs of Indigenous people and the need for Indigenous peoples to have control over developments concerning them. INIHPP supports the IUHPE global network as sees it as a vehicle for Indigenous rights.

IIWGHA – The International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA) is the first international Indigenous group of its kind. IIWGHA exists to build a unified voice for Indigenous peoples in collective action against HIV and AIDS by creating partnerships with governments, Indigenous leaders, research bodies and AIDS organizations. IIWGHA is committed to increasing knowledge and addressing the stigma of HIV and AIDS within Indigenous communities and supporting Indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives. Through the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, IIWGHA is generously supported with funding from the First Nations Inuit Health by the government of Canada. Thank you also to ViiV Healthcare Canada for helping IIWGHA with funds to assist with communications, especially for their support for translation services

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