The world’s largest and most attended International AIDS Conference has come to a close in Washington D.C. Of the more than 33,000 people who attended AIDS 2012, Indigenous peoples represented with strength and pride. But the work doesn’t stop here. It continues every day in our communities and in the minds of our peoples who are committed to prevention, treatment, and eliminating stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS for our next generations to come.
The leadership of Indigenous peoples in the HIV/AIDS movement both from the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV/AIDS and Indigenous organizations and initiatives around the world was shared in the Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone. Krysta Williams, advocacy and outreach coordinator at the Native Youth Sexual Heath Network explains: “The networking zone was called ‘Indigenous Circle—Decolonizing HIV/AIDS,’ and I think it was really one of the best spaces at the Global Village, if not the whole conference. What was organized for Indigenous peoples by Indigenous peoples in that space was real. What's going on now, what we're doing to confront our realities—not just talk each other's ears off about what would/should/could be (though we certainly know how to talk!). We made art and music and prayers and relationships that will last.” Adds Erin Konsmo, media arts and projects coordinator at NYSHN; “The couch talks in the Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone were key learning times. A reminder that Indigenous learning happens best when we connect in community driven ways. Loved the Elders and sex talk!”
There were also moments of struggle when Indigenous realities were not understood or taken seriously. These were opportunities for us to make our voices heard. “I know the big pieces that are sitting with me are around land—" Erin shared, "participating in the youth pre-conference and having to fight to talk about land as essential to harm reduction for Indigenous peoples. Having someone say to me, 'Why are you talking about land when we are talking about drugs/alcohol?'"
And so the movement continues, because this is more than stopping a “disease” from spreading. What we’ve learned in Indigenous HIV/AIDS activism are teachings that can be applied to many other things that are happening in our communities. It’s about hope, it’s about resistance, and most of all it’s about the right to be who we are no matter what’s going on. Jessica Danforth is the founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. She also serves as the chair of the National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV/AIDS.RELATED: First Indigenous Youth Council Formed in the U.S. to Reverse Course of HIV/AIDS in Native Communities