By Trevor Stratton, Coordinator of the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA)
The International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS in Sydney Australia: “Our Story, Our Time, Our Future,” http://www.indigenoushivaids2014.com will go down in history as a success story highlighting our past, present and future. The legacy left by Indigenous people in Australia and around the world at the International AIDS Conference – AIDS 2014 http://www.aids2014.org/ and our pre-conference will be felt for many years to come.
In Sydney, our story began by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land: the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Local Australian Aboriginal health experts, elders, youth, Indigenous organizations, HIV organizations, IIWGHA, international representatives, the national department of health and the government of New South Wales all come together to form AATSIOC – the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organizing Committee, with conveners James Ward and Michael Costello.
IIWGHA and AATSIOC were proud to announce that this was the fifth International Indigenous Pre-Conference since 2006 and for the first time was an independent affiliated event of AIDS 2014. At the pre-conference it was highlighted over and over again that Indigenous people are overrepresented in the key populations at risk for HIV and AIDS.
Interestingly, speakers on a panel of Indigenous people living with HIV (PLHIV) discussed what the UNAIDS theme, “Getting To Zero,” means to Indigenous people when awareness and access to prevention and treatment is still a distant reality for many. Indigenous PLHIV I spoke with who took part in the poz talking circle said it was the highlight of the pre-conference. Talking circles also took place for Indigenous youth, trans people, Indigenous women and girls, people who inject drugs and Indigenous gay men and MSM. Each talking circle reported back to the entire delegation during the final plenary. There was much cultural sharing and lifelong friendships were made while existing friendships were strengthened.
The welcome to country reception showcased traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance performances by the Descendance, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance Theatre. On the second evening we all went out on the Tribal Warrior in Darling Harbour for a boat cruise and to share a meal together. The final evening showcased a cultural sharing at the Bangarra Studio Theatre in Walsh Bay.
After the three-day pre-conference, Indigenous people brought their colours to Melbourne for AIDS 2014 as well. There were several workshops, posters, plenaries and even a symposium featuring Indigenous experts in the scientific program of the big conference. Each of these highlighted the need for governments and community organizations to recognize Indigenous people as a key population.
The Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone in the Global Village of AIDS 2014 was affectionately titled “Djamabanna Ngargee Birrarung Marr,” which can also be found on Facebook. This translates into “gathering by the water,” in the language of the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjer people of the Kulin Nation, the traditional Indigenous owners of the land. Our networking zone put out a warm and welcoming feeling of cultural dignity and sharing.
At the Networking Zone, more talking circles took place and provided a much-needed opportunity for Indigenous people living with HIV to get to know each other, to share common experiences and just to feel welcome. Everyone fit in; there were no outsiders in this safe space. As I write this I can see the faces of my Indigenous peers from around the world smiling with tears of joy. I will miss them all dearly until the next time we meet on mother earth or in the spirit world.
The Australian AIDS 2014 Legacy
The legacy left by Indigenous people at AIDS 2014 and the Indigenous Pre-conference could not have happened without the strong partnerships in Australia between Indigenous people, the HIV/AIDS sector and the Australian national and state governments. As Australia looks to countries like Canada with very high rates of HIV infection for Indigenous people as a warning sign, they enjoy great successes in prevention and treatment and support systems around Indigenous HIV and AIDS. Other countries with Indigenous populations could learn a lot from the Australian experience.
During the Pre-conference and as part of Australia’s enduring legacy, members of AATSIOC released the Eora Action Plan http://eoracalltoaction.wordpress.com/ with great fanfare. The Eora Action Plan voices the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about HIV and its potential impact on their communities. In particular, it seeks to bring greater attention and efforts to the prevention of HIV, including best clinical care and management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PLHIV.
Also as part of the Australian legacy from AIDS 2014 is the launch of ANTHYM – The Aboriginal Nations Torres Strait Islander HIV Youth Mob http://www.anthym.org/. This is only the third national Indigenous advisory committee on HIV/AIDS and sexual health in the world after the National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV & AIDS (NAYCHA) in Canada and the National Native Youth Council on HIV & AIDS (NNYCHA) in the USA.
There are many ways you can get involved with ANTHYM. You can connect through their social media channels to see what people are saying or share your views with them. You can tweet using the hashtag #ANTHYM when sharing your views about the issues that affect your communities. You can nominate Indigenous youth to be part of the committee to help guide the work of ANTHYM and promote messages of safe sex and safe injecting practices.
For the next four years, Australia will begin hosting an Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Day modeled after the Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (AAAW) that happens every year in Canada from December 1-5.
Find out more about what’s happening with the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS by visiting http://iiwgha.org or http://aboriginalaidsawareness.com/ to read up on our events for this year’s AAAW.