World AIDS Day took place on December 1, which was the same day that the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network launched a national awareness campaign in Winnipeg on Saturday. Their goal is to reduce the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. “It’s estimated that 390 Aboriginal people became infected with HIV, so basically one Aboriginal person per day becomes HIV infected in Canada,” says Art Zoccole, the chair of the Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network to CTV.
In Manitoba, it’s worse, 27% of HIV cases were among Aboriginal people, as stated in the CTV piece. In Saskatchewan, 58% of the HIV cases were Aboriginal people, according to the 2010 HIV and AIDS in Saskatchewan report by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. Very startling statistics.
The federal health agency has found that aboriginal HIV cases attributed to injected drug use has gone up to more than 50 per cent in the period spanning 2001 to 2008 from 18 per cent before 1995. The cases are increasing, especially among Aboriginal women. While this conjures up all sorts of images and stereotypes of Aboriginal women, it is very important to take time to understand where these issues are stemming from.
‘Our Bodies are Not Terra Nullius’ by Erin Konsmo
Charlotte Reading, an academic and Aboriginal women’s sexual health advocate was interviewed by Robyn Spilker, Coordinator of the Women’s Radio Collective at CFUV 101.9 FM earlier this month and she talks a great deal about the connection between Aboriginal women, AIDS, and historical trauma and colonization. Take a listen to the podcast, or read the transcription here at Shameless Magazine.
“One of the primary vectors of infection for Aboriginal women that are infected with HIV is intravenous drugs. And so, those women generally come from fairly traumatized backgrounds, and so, it puts them at risk for lots of other sexually transmitted infections. But also, sexual violence plays a role in their risk of becoming infected with HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections. The kind of sexual violence I’m talking about sometimes begins in childhood and a lot of women are ending up in adulthood having faced multiple sexual traumas over the course of their lives, and very limited opportunities to actually address those problems.” ~Charlotte Reading
“I use a tree metaphor sometimes to explain it to people. It’s the social determinants of health, but I say, if you look at a tree and the leaves are healthy, you’re pretty much guaranteed, or you know, that the soil and the roots of that tree are healthy as well. If you look at a tree, and the leaves of that tree are dying, then you have to know that there’s something going on in the roots of that tree, there’s some contamination, there’s some trauma, there’s something going in. So I say, if you want to look at a population of people, like Aboriginal women, and the disparities that we often experience, you can’t stop with the person. You have to look at the circumstances and the conditions which that person lives. And then, if you look deep into the roots, well that’s history, that’s structure, that’s government policies, that’s stigma, that’s racism, that’s sexist racism, so that’s that kind of misogyny that they save just for women of colour, just for Aboriginal women. ~Charlotte Reading”
The issues facing Aboriginal communities and our populations are huge when it comes to HIV, AIDS and awareness. The colonization and historical trauma that we have all faced is something that cannot be separated from how disease is being spread amongst our people today. I think it’s very important for all Canadians to understand and see the connections between our colonial past and the startling statistics we are presented with today.