By Kari-Dawn Wuttunee

Tansi, I am thankful to have the platform to write on a part of my experience while in Durban, South Africa attending the International Pre-Indigenous Conference (July 16 & 17, 2016) on HIV/AIDS 2016 (IIPC). The IIPC is an AIDS affiliated pre-conference that creates a forum for Indigenous Peoples from all over the world to share wise and promising practices, learn from each other and build relationships across continents, cultures, traditions and languages. This year the IIPC highlighted Indigenous Peoples from Southern Africa to explore Indigneity in Africa and HIV in their regions and communities. South Africa pays a important role as the host country because it has the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 6.19 million people living with HIV.

This year sessions at IIPC were diverse and incredible to witness, for one of the breakout sessions the young women from the Girls Leading Change project from Nelson Mendela Metropolitan University presented on the topic Women and Girls: Leaders, Activists and Champions in the HIV Response. Each of the young women from the project took the opportunity to speak about lived experience moving from rural communities to making the move to the city for school. They sat in a semi-circle with traditional regalia and proudly displaying their Girls Leading Change t-shirts – one by one they spoke about the challenge each one faced, each one with a story weaved with struggle and accomplishments. I felt proud to know them and being able to call them a friend and realizing they have taught me more about resiliency, culture and kindness then I have ever witnessed before. I know that going forward these young women are re-shaping the Indigenous womanhood narrative and breaking through gender norms by challenging stigmas and racism that oppress them every day. I am grateful for their friendship and excited to be working with this amazing group of young Indigenous South African women.

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