Leaders come together to address high AIDS stats in Saskatchewan
What was on the table for the prominent leaders that met at a special presentation luncheon in Regina on the first of December? How to address the high rates of HIV/AIDS in the Aboriginal demographic, especially in Saskatchewan.
A weeklong event hosted by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network – or CAAN – brought together important members from the community. Attendees included Don McMorris, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health, and Guy Lonechild, Grand Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Members from international indigenous groups were also in attendance.
“On the first day, it’s various speakers coming together and sharing their knowledge,” said Shelley Mantei, from the firm in charge of the event. “What they want to do is create strategy. It’s not scare tactics.”
Mantei believes that the power of the event is the presentations of the speakers and the collection of knowledge.
“Anytime you get a collective of that many people that are the thought leaders of an issue, bringing those people together in one room, you know how dynamic that can be.”
“If you loved wine, and the best winemakers in the world were coming to one spot, you know it’s going to be an amazing synergy of minds.”
The National Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week events, which started on Dec. 1, take place until Dec. 5. This year’s theme is “Respect + honor equals = healthy mother, healthy child.” After a look at the statistics it’s clear this is a meaningful theme. Almost 50 per cent of those tested for HIV are female, and over 30 per cent are youth. This is how CAAN was able to determine a focus for the weeklong event.
The event happens annually. Last year’s presentations were held in Vancouver and addressed the AIDS epidemic in the homeless-plagued downtown eastside. This year, Regina was selected to host the event. The distinction came because the high AIDS rates across the province, specifically in First Nations communities, made the Queen City the most effective place for the event to reach its audience.
“The AIDS rates are back up to the 1982 rates, which is pretty scary since Saskatchewan’s rates are the highest and that’s why the event is happening there,” Mantei explained. “This is of interest nationally, but very much so for what’s happening in Regina.”
Part of the reason the rates have climbed is due to the shame that some associate with the disease.
“Aboriginal people deserve universal access and human rights, especially as it relates to Aboriginal living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk,” explained Ken Clement, CEO of Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, in a press release. “However, discrimination, ignorance and stigma cause serious road blocks – in our communities and in places where our people receive health care – and challenge our ability to meet these basic rights, which threatens the very integrity of Aboriginal families.”
The luncheon itself, first on the agenda for the National Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, brought together more than people, but ideas.
“That’s what is neat about the luncheon. It is having all these people in the same room, not just talk but what are the next steps,” explained Mantei. “That’s how change happens.”
Dec. 1: Special Luncheon
Dec. 2: HIV/AIDS Strategy for aboriginal women
Hosted by Doris Peltier.
Dec. 3: HIV/AIDS Strategy for aboriginal youth
Hosted by Carrie Robinson.
Dec. 4: International indigenous working groups on HIV/AIDS.
Dec. 5: Research presented from the Canadian Journal of Aboriginal Community-based HIV/AIDS research