The two-day International Indigenous Pre-Conference on HIV/AIDS kicked off on Friday, July 20, with the mission of galvanizing energy and engagement leading into this year’s International AIDS Conference. Hosting representatives from over 100 distinct indigenous populations from 14 different countries, the event highlighted the astonishing dedication of government officials, NGOs and private citizens from around the globe to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic once and for all.
Organized by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), the event opened with a ceremony which included the traditional Posting of Colors and Flag and Honor Songs, followed by panel discussions including stories and remarks from an array of speakers including Indigenous leaders living with HIV and government representatives relaying information on current legislative and community efforts seeking to address the particular needs of Indigenous populations in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The highlight of the event however, was the four “pathways” of learning which took place in the afternoons on both days. These pathways included discussions on the “Experiences of Indigenous People Living with HIV/AIDS,” “Cultural and Wise Practices,” “Indigenous Policy and Advocacy” and “Research, Epidemiology and Surveillance,” which provided a comprehensive and fresh analysis of HIV/AIDS from the standpoint of Indigenous populations. Highlighting the prevailing disconnect between Western and traditional medicines and cultures, the Pre-Conference served was an amazing opportunity to provide the tools and knowledge necessary for effective collaboration between Indigenous and non-Native entities in ending this epidemic.
Key outcomes of the Pre-Conference included advancements in the level of knowledge of culturally appropriate and innovative HIV prevention activities being conducted by Indigenous peoples, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for networking and knowledge exchange among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) , member organizations and federal representatives, given the incredible diversity of populations and stakeholder representatives present.
Looking to the future, both CAAN and the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV/AIDS (IIWGHA) are working to produce a document that encapsulates the lessons learned from the Pre-Conference to share with government stakeholders and the attendees that can help to ensure continuity in the response to this epidemic among indigenous populations, which have been so disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.
Matt Zofchak is Legislative & Public Affairs Intern at NMAC