December 1, 2012 marks the 24th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a global event celebrating, honoring, and remembering those in the HIV/AIDS movement. Since 1988 people around the world have taken up the red ribbon in their own way, a universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV/AIDS and those who have passed on to the spirit world.
In Indian country, communities have been coming together on World AIDS Day since the beginning of the epidemic, not only to center the reality of HIV/AIDS in our communities but the concurrent issues of stigma, discrimination, and the importance of meeting people where they are at. The related issues to HIV/AIDS are also not to be forgotten because like many things HIV/AIDS does not happen in isolation; including other sexually transmitted infections (STIs); substance use; mental health; racism; and not having access to culturally safe education, care, treatment and support to name a few. It will take all of us to make change happen.
This year Indigenous communities throughout North America are continuing to commemorate December 1, from the first Annual Navajo Nation HIV Prevention Conference which took place this past week November 28 -29, to an entire week itself dedicated to education and mobilizing action nationally with Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, December 1-5.
The National Native American Youth Council on HIV/AIDS (NNYC-HIV) and National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV/AIDS (NAYCHA) have come together this year, being the two first Indigenous Youth Councils on HIV/AIDS to make a joint statement regarding our next generations taking leadership in this movement, until we get to zero:
Joint statement from Indigenous Youth in North America on World AIDS Day - December 1st, 2012 from the National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV and AIDS (NAYCHA) - Canada and the National Native American Youth Council on HIV/AIDS (NNYC-HIV) - United States
The global theme of this World AIDS Dayis "Getting to Zero": Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths. NAYCHA and NNYC-HIV represent Indigenous youth throughout North America who advocate building relationships and empowering Indigenous communities to eliminate HIV and AIDS and associated stigma and discrimination. We as Indigenous youth are a central part of many of our communities and are vital to the survival of Indigenous nations. Our nations will be stronger if we centralize our conversations around support for youth to make decisions about their own bodies and share knowledge about HIV and AIDS. On this World AIDS Day theme of "Getting to Zero" let’s also commit to getting to:
Zero shame for who we are, what we aspire to be, and where we come from.
New HIV infections increased by 8.9% among American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) people in the United States between 2007 and 2010. These rates disproportionately affect AI/AN communities who constitute a small proportion of U.S. wide demographics. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012)
In Canada, 19.3% of reported AIDS cases among Aboriginal people are between 15 and 29 years old. This is compared with 14.8% of reported AIDS cases among non-Aboriginal people in the same group between 1979 and 2008. (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2010)
In response to the realities of increasing rates of HIV and AIDS, we have come together in this statement to address the different attitudes and beliefs among Indigenous youth regarding HIV and AIDS and welcome further dialogue and action. NAYCHA and NNYC-HIV promote culturally safe access to testing, care, treatment and support for those living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS. We also wish to express our hope and courage for Indigenous youth becoming leaders who exercise their human rights to:
Be educated and talk about HIV and AIDS with resources that speak to our different identities and experiences as Indigenous youth,
Eliminate stigma and discrimination of HIV and AIDS,
Support harm reduction approaches to wellness for Indigenous people living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS and their families.
For more information about the National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV and AIDS in Canada please visit: http://www.caan.ca/youth/.
For more information about the National Native American Youth Council on HIV/AIDS in the United States please visit: http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/july212012.pdf.
Jessica Danforth is the founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network that works across the United States and Canada in the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health by and for Indigenous youth.