PRESENTATION AT WAHTA FIRST NATION POSITIVE LIVING WITH HIV GAAGIIGIDOK OGOKWEK

By: Russ, Shane, Corey, David and Trevor

Picture this: Four laughing Toronto city-Indian boys driving a rusting, 20-year-old station wagon through the great white north on their way to present at a speaking engagement at Wahta First Nation. We were certainly getting more and more lost in the blizzard blowing in from Georgian Bay. The car was dying but Aboriginal youth were counting on us so we pressed on.

Upon arriving, the car died in the parking lot of the Wahta Community Centre. Luckily, Philip, the Community Health Representative (CHR) offered to drive all the way to Bracebridge to buy a new battery for the car.

We were welcomed by Nichole Davidson, the National Native Alcohol and Drug Addiction Program worker who made us feel right at home. We quickly began setting up our projector, laptop and resource table. After a healthy lunch, we began our panel presentation.

The audience at Wahta consisted of about 30 youth and 10 adults. They were all ears. We drove all the way to the Wahta community to share our experience as 2-Spirit Aboriginal men living with HIV/AIDS.

Trevor, Corey, Russ and David introduced themselves and began by giving a brief overview of the contemporary and historical 2-Spirit identity. We explained how we are messengers who have come to educate our communities around HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. This is an Aboriginal issue.

Our collective stories touched on many issues of the crisis faced in our communities by HIV/AIDS. We talked about the downside of living with HIV and AIDS such as bereavement and loss of loved ones, self esteem, substance use issues and how it impairs one's judgment and decision making process. We discussed issues around cultural loss through adoption and the "Sixties Scoop".

There wasn't a dry eye in the house when we spoke of basic human dignity, dying with dignity and how no Aboriginal person should have to die alone. The speakers discussed in detail about how Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS often must leave the community either to be closer to specialized medical care or because of high levels of stigma and discrimination they experience when living at home.

Youth were encouraged to get tested for HIV and they were told the address and phone number of the nearest place to get anonymous HIV testing. Growing up gay in school and being ridiculed for being gay was talked about and how that affects a 2-Spirit youth's self esteem. We also talked about how children and youth have a hard time coping with a parent's HIV-positive status.

We strongly believe as a group that we made a positive impact about the realities of life that we have shared about HIV/AIDS. Even though some of us were diagnosed recently and some have been HIV-positive for over a decade, each of us has an important and valid story to tell.

We feel that the training from this 2-Spirit Organizational Capacity-Building Project has helped fulfill or enhance our holistic well being; spiritual, physical, mental and emotional. And with these new strengths we feel that we can confidently educate, promote awareness and teach accurate information in all of our communities.