By Doris Peltier & Trevor Stratton – May 2012
APHA Liaisons – Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
It has often been said that “HIV has no borders or jurisdictions”. This begs the question “then why do we continue to operate within jurisdictions and work within our silos in our response to HIV in our Aboriginal communities?” These questions have been articulated many a time and at many tables by those that have stepped into APHA leadership roles. When the underlying principle of the ‘greater involvement of people living with HIV’ (GIPA) is allowed to flourish, and is encouraged and supported, much can be achieved and visions of seamless reconnecting to our communities will emerge, and has.
This is what happened recently in Ontario when APHA leaders in this vast region took a historical step forward and organized and brought together, on-reserve and off-reserve, status and non-status APHAs to North Bay, Ontario for a two and half day summit. Suffice to say, it was a real honor to meet new peers, particularly those that have never before attended a gathering or conference within the Aboriginal HIV and AIDS movement. This is largely due to the fact that there is still much stigma and discrimination towards our peers that choose to live in their First Nations communities. Another very real barrier that hinders their meaningful engagement also lays in the fact that a prevailing ‘code of silence’ still exists towards HIV within our communities. The underlying premise to host this summit was to address and discuss these very real issues around linkages to care, treatment and support for our peers in remote settings, and to address the disconnectedness within the region as a result of jurisdictional barriers.
It needs to be noted that the process which culminated in this historic summit was initiated almost 4 years prior to the actual event taking place in March 2012. At the Ontario First Nations HIV/AIDS Education Circle (OFNHAEC) quarterly meetings, a core group of 4 APHA circle members initiated discussion with OFNHAEC HIV/AIDS educators by identifying what they felt were barriers and challenges within the regions and initial discussions focused on finding a way to mobilize towards the creation of an Ontario-wide APHA Caucus. The core group presented a convincing argument and garnered the support of the educators to move forward and begin a visioning process.
In Ontario, there are three Aboriginal NGOs involved in the response to HIV for Aboriginal people residing in the province; they are as follows:
The Ontario First Nations HIV/AIDS Education Circle (OFNHAEC) is an Ontario First Nations HIV/AIDS education and awareness body comprised of the four Provincial Territorial Organizations and the Independent First Nations Alliance. Under the umbrella of the Chiefs of Ontario, OFNHAEC is tasked to deliver HIV/AIDS education and awareness and resources to first nation communities in Ontario. Within the circle each PTO is represented by an educator, which also includes an educator for the Independents, and also includes 5 APHAs, an Elder and a Youth. The PTOs include: Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Union of Ontario Indians, Treaty 3 and the Independent First Nations Alliance.
The Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy (OAHAS) is primarily an urban centered Ontario-wide Aboriginal strategy. The primary goal of OAHAS is to provide culturally respectful and sensitive programs and strategies to respond to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among Aboriginal people in Ontario through promotion, prevention, long term care, treatment, and support initiatives consistent with harm reduction. These services are carried out by 15 staff strategically located within urban centers across Ontario. The scope of services carried out by OAHAS is primarily conducted for urban Aboriginals, but they have gone into First Nations when invited to deliver workshops and client services.
The 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations is a non-profit social services organization whose membership consists of Aboriginal gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Toronto. The 2-Spirits organization’s programs and services includes, HIV/AIDS education, outreach services, prevention services and offers support and counseling for 2-spirited people and others living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. 2-Spirits has the distinction of being the only Aboriginal NGO that represents 2-spirited people in Canada.
It is important to mention the above three organizations because it marked yet another historic step forward for the Ontario Aboriginal HIV response, when at the behest of the core APHA leaders, representatives from the three organizations were invited to be present at the table, and it needs to be noted that this was the first time that these organizations sat together as a unified front to address HIV within the province. In the end, there was a full representation of key Aboriginal stakeholders involved in the planning and in the summit advisory committee. It also should be noted that the power-brokers in this instance were APHAs.
The first and only face to face meeting of the Ontario First Nations Aboriginal People Living with HIV/AIDS (OFNAPHA) Summit Advisory Committee took place in November in Toronto to begin the planning process for the summit. At this historic meeting, when it began heading into getting bogged down within the political quagmire of jurisdictional barriers, one female APHA member brought it all back into context by stating, “Let us leave the politics off the table, and just focus on solutions, we are talking about lives of people here, and we should focus on how we can work together without getting bogged down in politics.” I have excerpted the process we arrived at from the final evaluation report by evaluator Mary Jamieson of Native Management Services.
The work began with the development of a Collaboration Service Agreement (also a first in Ontario) that identified the three parties involved namely, Ontario First Nations HIV/AIDS Education Circle (on-reserve), Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy (primarily urban) and, 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (an Aboriginal NGO representing 2-sprited people and based in Toronto).The CSA outlines the work to be undertaken by the parties in organizing the Summit. The OFNAPHA Summit Advisory Committee set out a Terms of Reference to guide them in their work to achieve the desired outcomes which focused on: Creating a unified voice for OFNAPHAs; development of an effective network of supports; training; and, seamless transition of OFNAPHAs in prevention, care, treatment, supports and services no matter where they choose to live in Ontario. (M.Jamieson – OFNAPHA Summit Evaluation Report, 2012)
Within the CSA, the three organizations also acknowledged that partnerships are essential in order to begin to address these disparities for OFNPHAs and agreed to work together towards the planning of an OFNPHA Summit.
Following this initial meeting, the work of the OFNAPHA Advisory Committee kicked into high gear, and I need to note that all the meetings and all documentation and the development of supporting documents were done by APHAs, and the weekly teleconferences via SKYPE were also coordinated and led by APHAs.
The budget for the summit came from a proposal drafted by OFNHAEC with Rene Boucher taking the lead in the writing of the submission. The summit was funded $50,000 by Health Canada’s First Nation Inuit Health Branch, and $20,000 from the AIDS Bureau (funnelled through OAHAS)to support the costs of bringing 30 Summit participants and 10 presenters/organizers together from March 6 to 8 in North Bay, Ontario.
In conclusion, the summit was a huge success and plans are currently being discussed to host a second summit in 2013. When we were asked independently to submit a newsletter article for this edition of the CAAN newsletter, we felt it was important to tie our APHA Liaison activities to something concrete that really illustrates our roles as APHA Liaisons with CAAN. Quite often in our duo team role we work in tandem together! Though our roles as APHA Liaison are only designated as part-time, we often work above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to doing this work on the ground, and if truth be said, we are committed to the work we do when it comes to organizing an event with other APHA leaders on the ground, such as this summit.
All my relations
Doris Peltier & Trevor Stratton