On September 4, Harlan Pruden, (First Nations Cree) was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). PACHA was formed by an executive Order in 1995 as a way to provide advice, information and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding programs and policies related to the prevention and research on HIV/AIDS. Members are selected for their expertise or experience with matters related to HIV and AIDS.
In a release, Harlan Pruden stated, “It is an honor to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. As a member of PACHA, it is my intention to find areas of intersections with other impacted communities and then to work to find ways to address HIV/AIDS in Indian country.”
In an email to ICTMN, Pruden wrote that he was nominated by the outgoing PACHA council member Jack Jackson Jr. (Dine’) the current Senior Advisor and Liaison for Native American Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Pruden said he immediately expressed his passion to be part of the council.
“After Jack nominated me, I printed out a map of the U.S. and listed all the folks that I have worked with in Native community and then contacted everyone asking for letters of support. Charles Rangel, my Congressman, also sent a strong letter of support,” wrote Pruden.
Jackson Jr. told ICTMN that he was inspired by Pruden’s “commitment and passion” and that before he left his position at PACHA to work for the state department, Pruden showed his dedication to the issues.
“During a 2013 meeting, Harlan’s knowledge and counsel were instrumental to the passage of my Two-Spirit bill. During my presentation, Harlan and a colleague Dr. Karina Walters supplied background information and statistics that were very impressive and informative.”
“When it came time for me to leave the council, I immediately thought of nominating Harlan and wrote a letter of support,” said Jackson. “I am very happy he was appointed.”
Other Native notables working toward research and the awareness of HIV/AIDS shared their comments of support.
"I believe that the Native community is very well represented by Harlan Pruden's appointment to PACHA. “ said Dr. Pamela Jumper Thurman (Western Cherokee), Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Community Readiness at Colorado State University. “Harlan brings compassion, strength of purpose, and deep commitment to this position. I call on the Native community to give him full support as he moves forward to promote effective prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS for Native people."
“The Indigenous Peoples Task Force is pleased to see that Harlan Pruden will join PACHA, “ said Sharon M. Day (Ojibwe), the Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force. “The Indigenous Tribal Nations and urban Native Americans desperately need a strong advocate for our people to ensure we do not continue to be left behind as the rest of the country reduces its HIV viral load.”
"Harlan Pruden's appointment to PACHA is a great achievement especially in our work toward the recognition of Indigenous people as a key population in addressing HIV/AIDS around the world." said, Trevor Stratton (Mississauga’s of the New Credit First Nation), Coordinator of the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS.
Within the volunteer position, Pruden say he is currently planning on a conference call with all members of the National Confederacy of Two-Spirit Organizations, the “Not-One-More” Native HIV/AIDS Coalition members and other Native serving HIV/AIDS programs, agencies and leaders to discuss implications of the recently passed Two Spirit Resolution, as well as work to find “our community’s major programmatic and policy asks.”
Pruden says he also hopes to be a “strong NATIVE voice that is firmly based and connected with the community in hopes there will be more services and programs (that are culturally appropriate,) so the next generation of Native people will be an AIDS-Free Generation!”
As a two-spirit person who has overcome personal odds to succeed as an advocate, Pruden says his quest to improve HIV/AIDS awareness is a personal one.
“When I was younger and a raging alcoholic, I would often go to the gay bars to find Mr. Right, who would make everything perfect. But as soon as I got a drink in hand, I became so ugly that no-one wanted to be around me. When I sobered up in 1989, far too many of those I sobered up with learned that they were HIV+. At the time, that was a death sentence. I lost way too many friends who sobered up just to die. My work is in-part for all those who were taken from us too early,” wrote Pruden.
“The other motivating factor is the Two-Spirit community. HIV/AIDS is disproportionately impacting the male-assigned Two-Spirit community – I work to address this, so they are protected, loved, respected and honored as they were in the past!”