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Native Currents

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, nearly 3,500 American Indians/Alaska Natives have been diagnosed with the disease and approximately half of our brothers and sisters have passed on from it. We have the third highest rate of new HIV infections in the country after African Americans and Latinos. Sadly, we have the shortest survival rate.

March 20 marks the fourth annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This single day, the first day of spring, has been set aside each year to bring awareness to HIV and AIDS specifically in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities.

The four seasons are highly respected in many cultures because they so closely represent the cycle of life. Spring represents a time of equality and balance. It is a time of profound change, new beginnings and birth. This day is not simply tied to a numbered box on a calendar, but to nature and the natural cycle of growth and renewal. And to further perpetuate this notion, an underlying and ongoing theme of “A Celebration of Life” was chosen to accompany the day.

This day brings national attention to the plight of Native communities and their struggles against the AIDS epidemic.

This day will challenge us to work together, in harmony, to create a greater awareness of the risk of HIV/AIDS to our Native communities, to call for resources for testing and early detection and for increased treatment options, and to eventually decrease the occurrence of HIV/AIDS among Native people. It is a time to reflect on those who have passed and who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS today. The Awareness Day encourages Native communities to learn more, educate others and take action against HIV/AIDS and its impact.

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Every ethnic and racial group in America has been affected by HIV/AIDS, but individual experiences, impacts, responses, and the legacy of the disease are distinctively different. This day is a day that brings national attention to the plight of Native communities and their struggles against the epidemic.

The National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was organized and implemented in 2006 by the Colorado State University’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Program, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. and the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center. Since then, it has grown and more events have been held across the country.

This year, there have been 73 events reported to be happening in at least 28 different states. Efforts include pow wows, health fairs, special guest speakers, news editorials, radio interviews, outreach events, memorial runs and informational presentations. National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2010 is financially supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, IHS and the Office on Women’s Health.

On Feb. 2, I was sworn in to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS along with 24 other individuals. I am the only Native American to be appointed to this council. The council provides advice, information and recommendations to the secretary of Health and Human Service regarding programs and policies intended to promote effective prevention of HIV, and to advance research on HIV disease and AIDS.

Jack C. Jackson Jr., Navajo, is a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.