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Voices of Truth - Metis and HIV

December 14th, 2010     by Erin Konsmo     Comments

This is part two of an introductory series of posts. Part one can be found here. My voice has a lot to do with where I come from, and the Metis people who have taught and guided me within the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS movement. I am currently part of a project called “Voices from the Fire: Vision in Truth.” This project seeks to develop a community-based perspective of HIV/AIDS to inform education, prevention and/or support strategies and ultimately reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Aboriginal communities in central Alberta.

Being from Alberta, we have one of the highest populations of Metis at over 66,000 out of 3.7 million. Working within the Aboriginal HIV movement, I continue to see Metis people affected by HIV and forgotten because of the discrimination in pan-Aboriginal approaches. It pisses me off when I see how it has affected Metis elders, and still have a provincial health provider tell me that they are “culturally competent.” It pisses me off when I hear fellow Metis youth tell me that condoms are not available on their campuses, or that they aren’t even allowed to talk about gender identity. It pisses me off when I talk to the family of four that are all living with HIV. The father has First Nations status, the wife is Metis, and their two children are First Nations. However, the husband has to share his Ensure with his wife because it isn’t covered for her, because she is Metis. I have reason to be concerned as a Metis youth, that the impact of HIV/AIDS is far more than we currently understand. I have reason to believe this because we are lumped into the ethnic statistic of being Aboriginal.

It angers me as a youth that grew up within an atmosphere of oil field life and oil field attitudes, and how this was brought home. The links between resource extraction and HIV are not widely recognized, but they are even less recognized for Metis people who live in rural communities. As a Metis youth who grew up in an oil field family, I know the effects that resource extraction had on my sexual health. Resource extraction breeds a system of patriarchy, brings violence into the home in the form of physical and emotional violence, and breeds low self-esteem for young Metis women when value is placed on conservative roles for women. Because of big oil extraction, my Metis sisters and brothers are affected by HIV - period - whether they are directly in the camps serving as sex trade workers, downstream from oil extraction sites, or living in a rural community.

I am completely committed to the fact that “place” is a social/cultural determinant of health for Metis. So my question is: if most Metis people do not have ownership or self-determination over their land, will they not be affected by HIV?

This poem by Neidjie really impacted me when I read it, and was part of the reason I decided to create the image “Beads that Don’t Belong” (below the poem):

“I feel it with my body, with my blood. Feeling all these trees, all this country. When this wind blow you can feel it. Same for country, you feel it. You can look. But feeling… that make you” (2002, p.51)

So, by now you can tell that I’m pissed off. I’m angry that although the Aboriginal movement around HIV has gained more funding toward HIV research, it continues to place us into a pan-Aboriginal approach. It continues to miss the distinct histories of First Nations and Inuit people as well, with the many layers they carry as distinct peoples. For today I am concentrating on the pan-Aboriginal approach and how it affects me and other Metis communities.

This pan-Aboriginal approach means more of a possibility of Metis being affected by HIV. Yes, people in health services: this means that you have to work harder to find us Metis. Yes, it means that you can’t just target reserves for sexual health education; you must reach out to the Metis who are scattered all over provinces like Alberta and who don’t necessarily self-identify. And why would we self-identify, when it doesn’t mean we will be recognized in HIV statistics or see any benefit?

Part three of this series will appear tomorrow.

Tags: race and racism, sexuality

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