Aboriginal Women Respond To Mounting AIDS Crisis

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Winnipeg organization launches project in response to growing threat of HIV infection

The rapidly rising rate of new HIV infections among Aboriginal women in Canada has generated increasing alarm over the past two decades. According to the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), Aboriginal women accounted for approximately 50% of all HIV-positive test reports among Aboriginal people in 2003, compared with only 16% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Aboriginal community members have long lamented the absence of resources for Aboriginal, women-specific research, programs, services and supports to address the growing crisis. Now, one community organization has stepped in to help fill the gap in Manitoba.

Aboriginal Women Responding to the AIDS Crisis (AWRAC) is an 18 month project aimed at empowering women to take the lead in determining the growing impact of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) on the Aboriginal community and respond to it swiftly. Spearheaded by Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc, a Manitoba-based community organization, the project will educate Aboriginal women about HIV/AIDS, HCV and STIs, function as a link between AIDS service organizations and Aboriginal programs, and increase capacity to provide sexual health and injection drug use harm reduction initiatives amongst Aboriginal service providers.

Since its inception in August 2006, AWRAC has established an Advisory Council and held a press conference to launch the project. It is currently in the process of conducting focus groups with project partners on the development of a capacity building training model. The training concept and framework will then be presented and reviewed with stakeholders at a one-day forum and field tested in early 2007 with organizations that provide services to Aboriginal women. Once revised and finalized, the training program tools and resources will be shared with other community groups in Manitoba and across Canada.

In a 2004 national survey conducted among Canadian Aboriginal persons living with HIV/AIDS by CAAN, women participants requested services aimed specifically at women living with HIV/AIDS, and emphasized the need for services that provide trustworthy, private and/or anonymous counseling. Women also reported more problems than men with travel and transportation, either to visit distant home communities or to get to medical appointments and treatment or support services in their local area.

Ka Ni Kanichihk – "those who lead" in the Ininew (Cree) language – provides a range of culturally based Aboriginal led programs and services that are rooted in the restoration and reclamation of cultures.

"The very real threat of HIV and AIDS to our communities commands our full and immediate attention," says Astrid MacNeill, Coordinator for the White Wolf Speaking Program of the Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC) and a member of the project's advisory council.

"We are asking the Aboriginal community to look at this crisis and the sacred responsibility given to us within the natural law of our ancestors. This great law holds us accountable to ensure survival for succeeding generations so that they may have "wholeness of life". We invite the community to work together to prevent the further spread of the virus, in ways that are congruent with the world views of Aboriginal people. We ask you to consider our kinship with those already living with AIDS, and the care and support they and their families require. The leadership for addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis must come from our communities, with the full support of the federal, provincial and territorial governments."

For more information on AWRAC, contact:
Albert McLeod, Project Consultant T: (204) 953-5820 ext. 27 E-mail: amcleod@kanikanichihk.ca