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HIV/AIDS and environmental activist to set sail across the Atlantic

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - He is a descendant of the Canarsee, the Native people of western Long Island, and as a child growing up in Brooklyn, Victor Mooney had the Atlantic Ocean as his backyard: it was his ;'playground and inspiration.''

He and his father also canoed in lakes and rivers in upstate New York, where young Victor learned to love and respect the water even more.

That love of the water and of family combined to lead Mooney into a life of advocacy, both for the natural world and for treatment of a disease that has affected his family and many millions of other families across the globe: AIDS. Mooney, a public affairs representative/entrepreneur and father of four, decided to use his skills as a sailor and advocate to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and the fight to preserve the environment at the same time.

On Dec. 1, Mooney will row 8,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, the environment and to ''jump-start a global conversation.''

His journey will start in the West African nation of Senegal, traveling across the Atlantic to a brief re-stocking of supplies in the Mona Passage (between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) and then on to the Brooklyn Bridge in approximately 210 days. The determined and athletic Mooney will take on this challenge in a 24-foot fiberglass rowboat that will be equipped to interact globally through a satellite telephone system to allow viewers and sponsors a chance to witness the journey.

The 43-year-old activist made his first attempt at this odyssey in 2006, but an inadequate vessel put the project on hold. This time, though, he will be sailing in a boat designed by naval architect Doug Frolich of California: the ''Spirit of Zayed,'' which is being constructed in Maryland.

Mooney spoke to Indian Country Today in April to talk about the project and his hopes that many American Indians would support it.

Indian Country Today: You speak of jump-starting a global conversation, between whom and about what?

Victor Mooney: I hope to raise the awareness of global conservation. On a grass-roots level, I hope people globally can begin taking steps to protect the environment and prevent this disease.

ICT: When you were growing up, were you aware of your Canarsee heritage?

Mooney: Yes, thanks to my grandma [Nana]. She let her family know the history. As I became older, I never forgot that part of my heritage. One family member is the genealogist - recordkeeper - for us. My dad also brought us to tribal land as a kid.

ICT: Is there a surviving Canarsee community?

Mooney: Yes, but many people don't have the time to address their linkage. Many people are having trouble just dealing with day-to-day issues. You can walk around Brooklyn and just see the faces of the community. Naturally, the Canarsee history is still visible through landmarks.

ICT: Does your heritage have an influence on your decision to make this journey?

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Mooney: Absolutely. As a kid, my dad and I would take canoe trips in the Adirondacks. For years, I have paddle and rowed around Long Island. From the beginning of this, my awareness of my culture became visible. Throughout Long Island, I would stop in various ports and see that they were all named after Native Americans. My family instilled the value of respecting Mother Earth in my daily life. To do this on this scale is a blessing.

ICT: You are the executive director of South African Arts International. What kind of business is that?

Mooney: This was established in 1994, with the blessings of Nelson Mandela. The purpose of South African Arts International is to exchange art and artists between South Africa and the USA.

ICT: Are you an artist as well?

Mooney: No, I would consider myself as an administrator. For my daily life, I serve as a public affairs officer for ASA Institute [www] in Brooklyn, N.Y. SAAI is a volunteer-based not-for-profit group.

ICT: How long have you been sailing?

Mooney: I started around 12 years of age, from canoeing to rowing.

ICT: How far have you gotten in other odysseys?

Mooney: For distances, it has been 365 miles ... the circumvention of Long Island and NYC. This is chronicled on the Web site. It wasn't an overnight thing. I started with increments of 30 miles, then 90 miles. I just worked my way up. ... I love the water, respect the water. As a kid growing up, the water is your life.

ICT: How is the boat construction coming along?

Mooney: The boat construction ... will take about six to eight weeks. I can send updates as it's built.

ICT: Do you have the funding you need?

Mooney: I have a few sponsors. I'm hoping the Native community can put a leaf on the boat with their name on it. This will help underwrite the cost of building the boat. The green leaves will go inside the sleeping sections of the boat for a donation of $10.00. They can do this online at

ICT: Would you like to convey a message to Native readers?

Mooney: Our respective heritage is important to all of us. I hope tribal nations will support this project and appoint a person or persons that can translate my daily updates in Native languages. We all must continue to strengthen our forefathers' language. I believe this is important. I hope more people can take more pride in their history. One of the things I hope to do is to visit seven or eight tribal nations; that's something that is in my heart.

It's also my prayerful hope that the elders will bless the boat and representatives of all tribal nations can gather in Connecticut to send me off and for a private Prayer Pipe ceremony.