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Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week Kicks Off With World AIDS Day

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Across the globe, health groups are striving to bring awareness of the scourges of HIV and AIDS in this 30th year of the first documented case. World AIDS Day 2011 kicked off in Canada with the launch of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, timed to coincide with the international day.

The aboriginal awareness campaign runs from December 1–5, kicking off with opening ceremonies in Ottawa and moving across the country with workshops on youth, women, discrimination and other facets of the disease causing devastation throughout the aboriginal community.

“Aboriginals live with an HIV rate that’s 3.6 times higher than [that of] other Canadians,” says Assembly of First Nations National Chief in this short video exhorting everyone to work together.

Anywhere from 4,300 to 6,100 aboriginal people in Canada were living with HIV, including full-blown AIDS, in 2008, according to the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), which is sponsoring the week’s activities. That’s eight percent of all prevalent HIV infections, the group said, adding that 12.5 percent of all new HIV infections in the same year.

“Individuals living with HIV and AIDS may become isolated due to the stigma associated with the illness; social and community support plays an important role in helping individuals to accept their diagnosis and learn to live with HIV,” CAAN said in a release.

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The goal of this year’s Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week is to connect aboriginal organizations with government partners, health care providers and community leaders, the group said. It will demonstrate the community-based approaches that go beyond the symptoms and address the underlying circumstances of HIV infection, from building community to reducing intolerance and discrimination.

“Our communities show strength by protecting and supporting the most vulnerable. We are promoting health and well-being in our communities—we are fulfilling a sacred role in nurturing holistic healing, grounded in our cultural past and today’s reality,” said Ken Clement, CAAN’s chief executive officer, in the statement. “Practicing our aboriginal values of respect, honor and non-judgment toward others is key to our response—and this year we are asking all communities to become informed and lead the change.”

The launch event was co-hosted by the women’s group Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a northern advocacy group. The Canadian government was also on hand for the opening ceremonies to the week.

"This year's World AIDS Day marks the 30th year of HIV, with the first reported case documented in 1981," commented Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. "Aboriginal people continue to be identified as one of the most HIV-vulnerable groups in Canada, and this is why we are here on World AIDS Day. Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week is a time when we can look back at what has been accomplished and what our priorities should be in the year ahead."

After the December 1 launch the week’s events will move across the country. On Friday December 2, the focus is on aboriginal women and will be held in Montreal, co-hosted by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal; on December 3, Saturday, is a special webcast event at the Assembly of First Nations website; December 4 the week’s campaign moves to Winnipeg, where the cultural-preservation group Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc. will hold a cultural-awareness gathering, and on the last day, December 5, the week will be rounded out by an event hosted by the Kimamow Atoskanow Foundation (KAF), the Cree phrase for “We all work together, according to the group’s website.

The National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV and AIDS (NAYCHA) is also playing a large role, traveling the country to teach and learn teamwork and skills-building. More than 50 percent of the aboriginal population in Canada is under age 25, and these young people will emphasize the importance of youth leadership in combating AIDS and other issues facing the country’s indigenous youth.