So, we are in Jamaica on an aboriginal initiative, but I have yet to bridge the gap between Canadian Aboriginals and Jamaicans when it comes to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The problems is, I didn’t know there was an AIDS epidemic on reserve. Why don’t people talk about these things? I have never lived on a reserve, granted, but you’d think that perhaps the media would catch wind of the epidemic and report on it.
Recently, a video was uploaded to YouTube of Chief Ahenakew from Atahkakoop First Nation in Saskatchewan. He discussed the need for more HIV testing and treatment on reserve. So far as I know, he is among the first of all the Chiefs in Saskatchewan to mention the AIDS epidemic on reserve. Here is a link to his video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnboHItbOsU&feature=share Nurse Faye Isbister also posted a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqLyOpl6uvs&feature=relmfu) where she talks about the importance of HIV testing. This is one community out of hundreds that is not only talking about the HIV epidemic, but also taking action against it. The videos were funded by Health Canada and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.
This is one small step towards bringing awareness of the AIDS epidemic on reserve. We need to ensure that this trend continues.
Through research material provided by ICAD, I have discovered that in 2006, of 732 positive tests performed on men in aboriginal communities, 53.7% were caused by intravenous drug use, 25.3% were spread through heterosexual contact while the remaining 13% was spread through homosexual contact. This means that the fight on Canadian reserves is a whole different ballgame. What was once a “gay disease” has altogether ignored that stupid label and moved right along to drug users.
So how can we stop the spread of HIV on reserve if it is spread primarily through intravenous drug use? First and foremost, I guess we would have to address the social issues on reserve. Why are there so many drug users on reserve? How can we address this issue? Mr. Harper may suggest that cutting funds to aboriginals is going to save his precious budget and, ultimately, the economy. What about the people who are left behind? What happens when these struggling communities have no money to provide proper health care, access to HIV testing and treatment, or social programming designed to get youth involved in sports, their culture, and furthering their education? Well, the answer is simple. The current trends will continue. More and more people will feel trapped on their reserve. Feelings of hopelessness and despair will lead to drug use and unsafe sex. Drug use and unsafe sex will lead to the spread of HIV.
I’m not blaming Mr. Harper for the spread of HIV. Let’s be clear. There is also the problem of mismanaging funds on reserve. There was an article in the Star Phoenix (Saskatoon’s newspaper) that showed some First Nation Chiefs had salaries well over $200,000/year when you consider expense claims and a base salary. How can we possibly make sense of this? When some people on reserve live in near poverty conditions, how can their leaders earn 6 figures in a year? So yes, there is also an issue with Chief and Council mismanaging funds provided by the Federal Government.
The point I am trying to make, and it seems I have made this point before, is that we ALL need to address the issue of social inequalities on Canadian reserves. Otherwise drug use with continue to be a problem and people will continue to spread HIV. This epidemic is avoidable. We need to address the root causes and take it from there. It’s not so simple, I know. But we are already behind. So let’s try to catch up.
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” – Abraham Lincoln