Activist amazed by ongoing stigma as Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week kicks off

·3 min read

On Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (AAAW), the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) will share knowledge and awareness about HIV/AIDS to address and respond to the fear, shame and stigma that contribute to the disease.

CAAN is holding numerous virtual events throughout the week to address issues about HIV in Indigenous communities themed, “Shared Responsibility: Connecting relationships, culture, and health.”

AAAW takes place between Dec. 1 to 7 of each year to establish ongoing prevention and education programs in Indigenous communities as well as address attitudes that affect the prevention, care and treatment.

“It still amazes me that in this land we are still dealing with stigma, ignorance, discrimination and racism,” said Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, CEO of CAAN on Monday.

“We have been addressing the virus for many years, and so this is nothing new, but it is something we need to be mindful of in terms of how we are able to address it.”

The CAAN will share knowledge about culture and health with Indigenous community members and relevant stakeholders to decrease HIV stigmas and work towards improving the lives of HIV patients.

Issues that would be addressed during the event include youth leadership, Indigenous research in HIV, and harm reduction.

Care treatment support is available to every citizen living in Canada. However, Piyesis noted that Indigenous people are still not receiving adequate care to help sustain their life.

“As Indigenous people, we do not judge people for how they appear or look. We are concerned about the spirit that lives within them,” said Piyesis.

“We are making sure to feed them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. As we move forward and look at the needs in this land we have to look for solutions, and those solutions can only come from Indigenous people.”

Notable guests have been inviting to speak about this such as Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada; Carrie Bourassa, Scientific Director at the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Clement Chartier, President, the Métis National Council.

Other guests include Dr. Albert McLeod, Knowledge Keeper and Director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc. and Dr. Jack Janvier, Infectious Disease Specialist at the Alberta Health Authority.

“I want Indigenous communities to support the event in their local areas and to have a look at what is happening in their communities and support people with HIV in terms of spreading their knowledge.”

There will be many events held during the AAAW, such as presentations, games, workshops, and short videos from CAAN’s programs and research teams.

People who are interested in learning more about the event can visit the CAAN’s social media or email their questions about the event at caanadmin@caan.ca.

Through email, they will send information to interested participants about the virtual events and training offered throughout the week.

Year-round, CAAN focuses on raising awareness about HIV prevention and providing education for all Indigenous peoples to make a difference and inspire those in their communities.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun