By Trevor Stratton, Consultant and Coordinator of the IIWGHA –

At the United Nations it’s hard to get a word in edge-wise, especially for Indigenous people and communities.

In response to demands from Indigenous peoples for a high level permanent body at the United Nations, The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) was established.
But even at the UNPFII there are often so many important issues competing to be heard and to be entered into the official report. That’s why this year, three leaders of the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) worked hard to put HIV on the table at the UNPFII which ran from May 20-31 this year.

“This is an opportunity for Indigenous people to develop a coordinated response to HIV and AIDS in their communities. It’s also an opportunity for successful projects to be shared with communities may want to develop culturally-specific responses to this epidemic,”says Ken Clement, Co-chair of the IIWGHA, who attended the Permanent Forum.

Elisa Canqui, IIWGHA Leader from Bolivia, previously a Co-chair of the UNPFII and Williams Morales, IIWGHA Leader from Chile engaged with the forum as well. People from Indigenous authorities, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, organizers and government representatives and Forum members attended from all around the world.

The Permanent Forum provides IIWGHA with an opportunity to address HIV and AIDS issues in a global Indigenous context where it doesn’t seem to be very visible and make a strong link with key players at the UNPFII, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This year, the dynamic Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) and IIWGHA teamed up to get on the speakers list at the Forum to read out a joint-statement on HIV and sexual and reproductive health. To our disappointment our speaker did not get called to the floor to read our joint-statement.
No statement means the recommendations will not be entered into the final report. Only by having recommendations recorded can follow-up occur. Recommendations can be reviewed and built upon in future sessions to engender ongoing international Indigenous networking and partnering on HIV and AIDS issues.

That’s the way things work at the Permanent Forum.

Working Together: Indigenous Peoples Responding to HIV and AIDS and Sexual Health

On May 23, 2013, IIWGHA and NYSHN co-hosted a Side Event to the UNPFII titled, “Working Together: Indigenous Peoples Responding to HIV and AIDS and Sexual Health,” from 2pm to 6pm at UNICEF House in the Danny Kaye Visitors Center.

Delegates from the UNPFII and local people from New York City were invited to the side event to meet a number of Indigenous Leaders from IIWGHA for an evening of discussion, networking and strategy sharing. The event provided a chance to learn how Indigenous peoples are addressing issues surrounding sexual health and HIV within a human rights framework.

It was a really fancy meet and greet. Hors d’oeuvres and refreshments were served and translation was provided in English and Spanish.

The side event is just another way of raising the profile of HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities.
Through networking, liaising with key decision makers, holding HIV side events, submitting statements with recommendations, developing partnerships, distributing key messages and engagement with the various Forum caucuses IIWGHA can make a difference.

International Indigenous Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS for Indigenous Peoples and Communities from 2011-2017

By remaining focused on the International Indigenous Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS for Indigenous Peoples and Communities from 2011-2017, IIWGHA will continue to achieve its objectives. As IIWGHA maps out its own research strategy, the group will further develop the evidence needed to support actions being taken by the Forum and its delegates.

IIWGHA has a long uphill journey at the Permanent Forum. While HIV and sexual health were mentioned several times this time around in the statements submitted by other groups, it was not mentioned in the recommendations which are contained within the statements.

The Forum is an ideal place for IIWGHA to do its good work formally and informally networking and developing a relationship with the UNPFII co-chairs, members, organizers, NGOs, government representatives and Indigenous authorities.

At the International Indigenous Pre-conferences, which take place right before International AIDS Conferences, IIWGHA is the main event. It’s such a good feeling to see Indigenous HIV and AIDS take centre stage. That’s what you’ll see in Australia for AIDS 2014 and the Indigenous Pre-conference.

But for now at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, it seems as if HIV and AIDS and related issues such as sexual health and drug use and addiction are on the outside looking in.

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