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Aboriginal Youth and HIV in Our Communities

December 13th, 2010     by Erin Konsmo     Comments

My background as a Metis youth is increasingly important to me, and one of the issues I find myself extremely passionate about is sexual and reproductive health. In response to that passion and my involvement with the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS movement, I am providing a three-part piece on this issue in the form of a call-out. As a Metis youth representative on the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, I take my role seriously in making sure a Metis voice is present in all discussions. Recently, this voice has become disgruntled over how HIV/AIDS is affecting Metis communities. This is a response to that discomfort and a call-out on what must be changed.

My call-out is to the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Movement, and more appropriately the discriminatory colonial local, provincial and federal health services of Canada. Dedicated to all the Metis youth out there, my Metis grandma Marie, and to an HIV elder (xx-name I will not share out of respect for not confusing your spirit) who left to be in the spirit world this summer (thank you for everything you were able to teach me, and continue to show me in this movement).

To start off my discussion about Colonization, Racism and Sexual Health in Aboriginal Communities, I feel the most important aspect is to place myself. I am a Cree Norwegian Metis from central Alberta. I could have chosen to talk about the research I have done, or continue to do that is important to HIV in Aboriginal communities, but I found the courage this time to make it about me, my family, and the Metis community I am part of. I must indicate that I am not speaking as an Aboriginal person living with HIV (APHA), but a Metis youth who is within the age-group of being affected by HIV. I start off with that specific experience for several reasons.

First, let me give you some brief background on the Metis of Canada. “The Metis people constitute a distinct Aboriginal nation largely based in western Canada. The Metis Nation grounds its assertion of Aboriginal nationhood on well-recognized international principles. It has a shared history, a common culture (song, dance, dress, national symbols, etc.), a unique language (Michif with various regional dialects), extensive kinship connections from Ontario westward, a distinct way of life, a traditional territory and a collective consciousness.” What is also important to note is that “The 2001 Census further reports that one third of the Metis population is under the age of fourteen and two thirds of the Metis population lives in urban centers.” (Metis National Council).

Our youth and women are over-represented amongst the HIV epidemic. As an Aboriginal youth, I am 4.5% more likely to catch HIV than non-Aboriginal youth, and as a woman, I am 28.2% times more likely to catch HIV than women of other ethnicities. HIV test reports and AIDS diagnoses indicate that Aboriginal cases tend to be younger than non-Aboriginal cases.

Between 1979 and 2008, 19.3% of reported AIDS cases among Aboriginal people were of people between 15 and 29 years old, compared with 14.8% of reported AIDS cases among non-Aboriginal people in the same group.(Youth Fact Sheet).

Metis people represent close to 26% of the Aboriginal population in Canada, yet they receive minimal access to Aboriginal health supports of services provided by the federal and provincial governments. Unfortunately, “even though illness and disease do not discriminate between the three constitutionally recognized Aboriginal peoples, Canada’s current health policies and approaches do not address Metis specific health access.” (Women of the Metis Nation, 2007, p.9).

With this information in mind, we can tell that the approach to decreasing HIV among Metis people needs more focus.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series tomorrow.

Tags: race and racism, sexuality

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